Let's Listen Better
Music During Covid-19
During our time of sequestration we in the music world have all taken on roles and responsibilities which we perhaps had never imagined. The creation of online content, from podcasts to the re-editing of video and audio archival material to various experimentations with virtual music-making, has become our daily bread. We all understand the importance of keeping music available to people who need it now more than ever.
This time also provides opportunity for reflection. We are able to delve into the “why” of what we do. We can perhaps more clearly define the importance of our art form; beyond the entertainment value which is easily evident to people, and certainly distinguished from the multiple modes of distraction available to us all, the music with which we are so deeply engaged carries with it the possibility of deepening our understanding of the meaning of our lives and the communities within which we live. It’s a heady topic, but let’s seize this opportunity to ponder this possibility, again with the goal of gaining clarity as to why we do what we do.
We as classical musicians are professional listeners. None of what we do is intended to be “background.” Giving careful attention to the communication of the composer, to the details within the score, and to each other — every moment of every rehearsal and performance — is the warp and woof of our daily activity. In this, we have a tremendous gift to share with the world. Where else but in the concert hall is such careful attention given to listening, to being fully present in the moment? Present to the music itself and what the composer has to say, present to the musicians performing, but also (perhaps most importantly) to each other.
We as classical performers know that we are not onstage alone. Of course, we have our colleagues all around us but we also feel the audience; during a performance we all experience this music, this moment, together. We have also experienced that sense of unity when, seemingly magically, in a blissfully quiet moment in the music or during that pregnant silence when you could actually hear a pin drop, we know that all of us in the room — onstage and in the audience — are connected through our shared experience. This happens because we as musicians have successfully facilitated a kind of listening, a quality of attentiveness, which draws everyone in, focusing us all on the contemplation of beauty.
The gift we have to offer is to help the world to listen better. To the music, yes, because of all the reasons mentioned above but, through the cultivation of careful attention, we can learn to listen to each other better. We must listen better, personally, within our communities, and politically, both nationally and internationally. It is absolutely essential, and now is the moment. Let’s come out of this crisis with a renewed commitment to making music — passionately, with integrity and excellence, yes — but also with the hope of helping the world to listen better so that we can live better.