Music Tip #6    From Carol Worthey

Is Listening Creative?

Carol Worthey

A composer creates the music, the performer re-creates the music, and the listener co-creates the music. "Co" means "together with" or "along with." While some listeners habitually let the music go in one ear and out the other while their minds wander on their "to do" list--this is NOT the kind of listening I am talking about here. I am talking about listening intently, what I call "active listening." Active listening is creative. Let me explain:

Listening intently to a piece of music (or to any continuous fabric of sound for that matter, such as those in your current surroundings) involves comparing what one has just heard to what has happened earlier and anticipating or predicting what new sounds and patterns will occur.

When you are actively listening, you are continuously guessing where the music will go. Did you expect that chord? Did that melody remind you of the first theme in the piece? Has the rhythm changed or is it the same? Did the mood shift? Since music is experienced bit by bit, moment by moment like a colorful bolt of cloth unrolling itself across the floor of one's consciousness, you the listener are anticipating what will happen next and remembering the earlier sounds and patterns. You are predicting the "outcome" of what you've been hearing at each moment in time, constantly guessing, recalling, making an internal music of your own. That is why you as listener are not just a passive vessel, you are part of the creative process.

What do I mean by "making an internal music of your own"? It is almost as if the listener, while comparing and anticipating and guessing what will happen in the music, is creating his or her own parallel music, a more shadowy creation, but nevertheless, one that co-exists with the music created by the composer. In this way, an active listener is creating together WITH the composer.

As you listen intently--IF you are actively listening and not just letting your mind wander--you will find yourself doing more than just guessing and comparing, you will find yourself envisioning, perceiving and imagining a wide variety of feelings, memories, sensations and images. Who is creating these? You are!

And you are likely to be surprised at times because the music didn't arrive where you expected it to go. This surprise can be pleasant or unpleasant. The music can fool you, frustrate you, delight you, thrill you or disappoint you, all because you imagined it was going to go where it didn't go. Anticipation, surprise and predictability are all aspects of active listening--and they are the meat and potatoes of good and great composers of the past and present. A composer who doesn't listen to his or her own music WHILE creating it, who just puts dots on a page according to some intellectual "rules", is connecting the dots but missing the real picture.

Next: Why Is Listening Important?