Friday, February 7, 2014

Background music

I'm back! Sorry for my brief absence. Two reasons for this - firstly, work has been incredibly busy and stressful. I have been repeatedly reminded that rushing work just means I make more mistakes and have to go back and do it again.

Secondly, last night my lovely boyfriend took me for a rare treat, a classical music concert, for my birthday. We saw Bryn Terfel singing various operatic exceprts and it was brilliant - he's not only a good singer, he's a brilliant performer and entertainer. He thoroughly deserved the standing ovation and the riotous applause at the end.

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I was thinking on the way home about music, and how I listen.

When you're at a live music event, you're fully there. (Or at least you should be - anyone checking emails when Bryn Terfel is singing needs their head examined). I turned off my phone and focused totally on enjoying where I was, and it's very rare that I'm so present, so switched off from distractions and worries and a constant stream of reminders. I enjoyed it so much, it made me wonder why I wait for such rare and special occasions to be totally present in one experience. Why do I allow experiences and pleasures to be diluted by allowing interruptions in?

It's been quite a while since I sat and fully listened to a piece of music. I often listen to music, but it's normally background music. It's a kind of escapism really - by listening to music or the radio while I'm at work, I'm trying to half-pretend that I'm not there. That's not a very good practice, and to be honest it probably reduces my focus and my productivity. I'm thinking I might challenge myself to a week of no headphones and see how that changes the time of day I leave.

Using music as background noise also means I don't get to think about the music itself - to learn to understand or appreciate it, to develop preferences and favourites. I haven't 'discovered' a new piece or a new artist for quite some years. As you may be able to tell, my music tastes tend towards the classical, and the pieces I love most are those I know well, so that each note is a memory of another listening experience, and a reminder of the person I shared it with. With the first note of Die Walkure last night, I was standing with my dad in our old living room, bums resting on the radiator, listening together, while my Dad identified the different themes and marvelled at the precision of the brass section. It also reminded me that we haven't done anything like this together for far too long.

Many longer pieces of music take you on a journey, and I loose out on that when I instead have fragments beamed into my ear while I'm also having a conversation. I can vividly remember when I was given a CD of Karl Jenkin's 'The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace' for Christmas - when I arrived home I flopped on my bed with the liner notes and listened to the whole thing from beginning to end. I have a far better sense of what that is about, and how the different segments fit together, than many pieces I know snippets of nowadays.

So four lessons from a wonderful evening - be present, turn off distractions, make new memories, and follow the journey from beginning to end.

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