Are we listening? Or just hearing?

Too often I have taken it for granted that I have such an astute sense of hearing. I notice a fridge humming, clock ticking, tap dripping, neighbour sneezing. But am I REALLY listening? Sometimes I think, we think we are so good at multi-tasking that we are not fully present when we are appearing to be ‘listening.’

It may come as no surprise that as a pianist, my most inspirational composer is Ludwig Van Beethoven. As most know, lost during his musical career, he lost his sense of hearing. A composer who did not stop writing music on account of that, however.

I strongly urge musicians of all ages and abilities to listen, not simply to hear what is being said or the overall music that is played but to REALLY LISTEN attentively. Paying close attention to the details, inflections, mood each and every little aspect. Life is too short to not ‘feel’ the music. We can play so much better when we learn to listen better.

If Beethoven had given up composing, I am sure everyone around him would have accepted that as ‘fair enough’ especially in view of his circumstances. But he didn’t. When you feel like throwing the towel in with a tricky piece of music, remember that. I know I do!

I like the phrase ‘listen, not simply for your turn to speak.’ The last time I couldn’t sleep I listened to Beethoven’s Sonata no.8 in C Minor. For me, it was so beautiful to listen to that I didn’t want to fall asleep until the music had finished playing. Entitled by Beethoven as ’emotional’ was an understatement!

I was listening not simply to the tune but to the spaces in between the notes played. The rests, the quieter sections and steady chords punctuating the melodic notes and felt I was really properly listening to this music at about 4:00am with its due concentration for the first time in my life. In my opinion, this piece of piano music has it all…

I based my thesis on Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas because when I was learning to play one of his Piano Sonatas for my piano diploma, I found his whole story so interesting. Beethoven was not conventional. He often broke away from typical stylistic musical boundaries of his time. He pushed the piano and other instruments to their edge when it came to musical expression. He composed not only piano music but a great many works, including symphonies for the orchestra, despite his struggle with hearing. When it is all too easy to give up, his music inspires me. It reminds me that if someone who loses the ability to hear can continue writing, playing, conducting music… I have zero excuse to stop learning, improving, reflecting and sharing my music. Beethoven had the same hours in the day as us all. šŸ˜‰

Surely no contradiction is more inexplicable than that a composer slowly but surely losing his hearing was able to compose some of the greatest music ever written.

John Suchet, 2002.

One reply to “Are we listening? Or just hearing?

  1. Some people are natural listeners, but for others listening is a skill that has to be practised patiently. Over time I’ve certainly started properly ‘listening’ to music more ā€“ not because I have to, but because I appreciate being able to and because I want to take in as much of it as possible.

    One recent recording that has really blown me away is ‘Good Night, a selection of berceuses by French pianist Bertrand Chamayou. It really brings me in and the music envelops you as you listen. It’s also good for listening at night time!


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