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?

World Voice Day in a Time of Silence

world_voice_day_2020_poster_s_rgb-294x434Every year, World Voice Day seems to coincide with something that prevents me from celebrating it. Last year, it was during Holy Week. The year before, I was teaching all day at Howard Community College. And the year before that it was Easter Sunday.

And this year, we have a pandemic. And all performances are on hold. Lessons, master classes, conferences, and workshops have moved online. So sometimes we have to ask ourselves:

  • If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, did it make a sound?
  • If a singer sings a song and no one is there to hear it, is s/he really a singer? What does it matter?

The latter is a question I’ve asked myself in the last few weeks, since this all began. What’s the point of singing, if there’s no one to hear it? What is the point of teaching singing, if there’s nowhere for them to perform?

I love working with performers and helping them prepare for performing. Our studio cabaret was coming up on Mother’s Day (moved to September 13). Our studio recital was scheduled for June 7 (I’m going to be cancelling it or moving it online – still TBD).

What is the point? Why should we go on?

Our voices are with us all the time. Sometimes out loud, sometimes just in our heads. Sometimes we get to use them where others can hear them. Sometimes we just talk to ourselves and make plans for the future.

We still have our voices, even if performing is on hold right now. We might not be using them the way we want, but we should still continue to focus on our voices during this time so that we can use them when they can be heard again.

Because we will all have something to say once this is over. Next year, we’re going to do something big for World Voice Day. And we need to be ready.

Focus on your voice. You’re going to need it like never before.

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That was supposed to be the end of this blogpost, but while I was writing, I was watching The Good Fight on TV, and the cast and crew of the show was talking about how we are all still connected and it touched me so much that I had to put it here. Not all the singing is beautiful (not everyone in the cast is Christine Baranski and Audra McDonald) but all of it is heartfelt. And all of it matters.