Strings Music Festival: Mindful listening
July 12, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – "This is the best part," said an audience member in a whisper as we stood together in the doorway of the open Strings Pavilion.
A hushed horn line meandered from the stage and into the crowd, barely noticeable against the backdrop of the full ensemble. I agreed. It was a beautifully understated moment in the piece. But even more energizing to me was witnessing a listener so deeply engaged in the sound.
Her comment got me thinking about how we listen and what draws us to certain moments of music over others.
The great jazz pianist and educator Hal Galper often says, "Art is a process of self-discovery." With this in mind, every piece of art we admire should tell us something about our individuality that we didn't otherwise know. Each of our favorite musical moments, whether from Tom Waits' second verse of "Rosie" or the opening bars of Ravel's "Jeuz d'eau (Fountains),” it's a clue to understanding how we hear the world.
Among the arts world, sound is especially subjective; everyone hears things differently. As a result, it's important we take stock of our favorite moments and extract as much information from them as we can so that we may better understand ourselves as individuals. Sing these passages in the shower, hum them during your commute, and shamelessly whistle them wherever you go.
For musicians and listeners alike, these riffs should be as much a part of us as our speech habits. Taking mindful notes of these moments also leads us to new musical discoveries.
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Why did that vocal line give you shivers? What about that guitar solo induced such calm in you? What other artist or piece could give you the same experience?
By acknowledging these questions, you've suddenly built a playlist of personally meaningful songs that zeroes in on what you love about music.
To me, these moments are also very much dictated by architecture and space. Seeing a band perform in a crowded basement reeking of stale beer will likely elicit a different interpretation of the music than seeing the same band at Carnegie Hall.
This idea was recently exemplified on a Strings staff trip to The Tank, a massive 60-foot steel silo converted into an art performance space, where some of our summer resident percussionists recorded a piece written for the occasion. This room was so dramatic that anything performed would be twisted and reshaped by overlapping echo, as if the room itself was having a reaction to the music.
The Strings Pavilion is not dissimilar, it has unique acoustic properties and quirks, which react to and shape the performance. When you come to a show at Strings Pavilion, you may be hearing sound from the speaker system, but you are also listening to the room's unique reply to that sound — as if it's leaning in to say, "This is the best part."
Tyler Peyman is ticket sales and data manager for Strings Music Festival.