“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” Ernest Hemingway
Listening is a very important component of our Choral profession. We listen to our choruses in rehearsal for mistakes. We listen to the concerts we attend and the concerts we conduct. We listen to music for future repertoire. And of course, we listen for pleasure, either to recordings or live music. How did we learn HOW to listen? And are there different types of listening?
I remember my Mom or Dad being upset with me when I didn’t listen. I forgot to take out the trash or clear the table or another household chore that didn’t feel important at the time because I didn’t HEAR them ask me. And if I didn’t HEAR them, I couldn’t be expected to follow through. It was only when they lamented, I didn’t clear the table, or whatever it was, I remembered they were saying words at me, but I failed to listen. Being distracted by my teenage drama was a good enough excuse from listening to my parents.
My spouse, an otolaryngologist, has often told me of patients telling him they have “male pattern hearing,” which means they don’t seem to hear their spouses. Their spouses bring them to see HIM, for fear they have some sort of hearing loss. In reality, they are just not paying attention. I would argue it takes one to know one, the Great Dr. A is often guilty of “male pattern hearing” himself! But a spouse not listening to their partner or a child not listening to their parents is a form of listening we don’t really deal with, or do we?
Similar to the parent/child and spouse/spouse listening issues, we choral directors often find ourselves repeating the same directions, sometimes more than once, to our choirs. Children’s chorus directors have found asking their singers to “put on their listening ears” and making a great show of it, helps quite a bit. But it would be demeaning to our choirs over the age of ten or so to do the same, and our adult choirs would be insulted. So, what to do?
Pippa* tells me her adult community chorus had a real problem with listening to her instructions before COVID. In fact, in February 2020, she had thought about resigning because she was so frustrated with wasting rehearsal time because they did not listen. Before she had a chance to do anything about it March 2020, COVID and lockdowns happened.
Stunned with lockdowns, Pippa began to do some serious thinking about how to rectify this one seemingly silly complaint. In her children’s choral work of the past, it was easy (mostly) to get kids to listen by asking them to do so BEFORE they had to listen. But it was only when she assumed adult singers would listen to her instructions and they didn’t that she realized the problem could be simple to solve.
Zoom rehearsals became an inspiration because of time lags and other technical issues. They HAD to learn to listen, or it was very difficult. During those Zoom rehearsals at the very beginning of every rehearsal, Pippa began to ask her singers to “focus.” She specifically asked them to “focus with one mind” and that made a HUGE difference with Zoom technology issues. When they were finally able to rehearse in-person but had to wear singing masks, she again asked them to focus with one mind at the beginning of rehearsals. It worked wonders.
This past fall, when masks were no longer required, she again asked them to focus with one mind at the beginning of every rehearsal. What a difference this one phrase, as a normal part of rehearsals has made! No longer does she have to repeat “page 5, first score, third measure” over and over again. Pippa judges she used to waste about five to ten minutes every rehearsal and that was one of the things that frustrated her in February 2020. It was a simple fix but one she wishes she had thought of before.
I’ll be discussing some other types of listening in upcoming Choral Ethics blogs later this spring. Please comment below with your ideas!
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.