World Listening Day – July 18

“Unless I’m willing to be changed by you,
I’m probably not really listening.” — Alan Alda

I went to a singing teachers conference last week and learned more about listening than singing.

One session I attended was called “Children Will Listen” and covered the topic of teaching children between the ages of 5-12, a demographic I don’t usually work with, at least not before the age of 11. That title comes from the song of the same name from Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece, Into the Woods.

Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see
And learn

The point of this session was that children are going to sing anyway, so we might as well know their anatomy and development so that we can help them do it as healthfully and appropriately as we can.

Another session that dealt with listening was “The Curse of Knowledge,” which was about how we forget what it’s like to be a beginner, and sometimes talk over our students’ heads in language and with concepts that they aren’t ready to grasp. I was guilty of that very early in my teaching. Everyone would get all the information I had to give them in the very first lesson. And their heads would explode.

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I think I’m better at it now, but there’s always more information I can take in.

I talked a little about these both in my previous blogpost, I Learned Something Today.

And then, I happened upon a site that told me that next Saturday, July 18, is World Listening Day. I’d heard about World Voice Day before (and I intend for us to celebrate it next year as a studio), but this was new to me. This is a day that was created to honor the birthday of Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer, who founded a movement called acoustic ecology.

Next Saturday, spend some time doing some active listening.

  • Listen to the sounds of nature when you go on a walk. What do you hear?
  • Listen to music. Not while you’re doing housework, or talking to someone in the house, but just on your own. What do you hear? What instruments? What rhythms? Especially if it’s a live performance, what do you hear besides the music being played? Do you hear people breathing? Coughing? Feet tapping? Chairs creaking?
  • Listen to others. What are they saying? What are you learning from them? Are they listening to you?

Are you really listening or are you just waiting for your turn to speak?

Are you willing to be changed by what you are hearing?

Listening Party #3: Assassins

Stephen Sondheim certainly does like to write about varied subjects, doesn’t he? Here’s a few examples:

  1. A fake miracle, a corrupt mayor, and inmates from a local asylum called the Cookie Jar (Anyone can Whistle, 1964)
  2. A love story about two young people living in a department store with a subculture of residents who are afraid of being turned into mannequins if they leave (Evening Primrose, 1966)
  3. A demon barber who takes revenge on his hapless customers and his amoral landlady, who turns their corpses into meat pies for sale at her pie shop on Fleet Street (Sweeney Todd, 1979)
  4. Presidential assassins, successful and would-be (Assassins, 1990)

On Friday, May 15, at 3pm, I will be hosting the third listening party, which will feature Assassins. This is a 1991 recording of the off-Broadway version, which includes a fantastic cast of actors including Victor Garber, Debra Monk, and Terrence Mann. The show did not open on Broadway until 2004 (it was supposed to open in November 2001, but the post-9/11 atmosphere would not have been friendly for a musical about presidential assassinations).

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Much of the music in the show is reflective of the time period in which each assassin lived. “The Ballad of Booth” has strong overtones of Stephen Foster. “I am unworthy of your love” is a 70s folk-rock ballad. “The Ballad of Guiteau” is a late 1800s cakewalk (and features the only words that Sondheim has ever set to music that were not written by him). “How I saved Roosevelt” uses a Sousa march as its foundation.

None of the assassins are portrayed as heroes, or victims, or justified in their actions. It is an examination of the times in which they lived.

Yes, it’s weird. Come listen to the weirdness with me. I’ll walk you through it. Contact me if you want the PMI.

Donations will be accepted for Spotlighters Theatre, which has served Baltimore for nearly 60 years, and had to suspend their current season due to the coronavirus.