To enjoy music, stop to really listen

My wife and I once invited a friend who is a professional organist and pianist to dinner. As we sat down to chat beforehand, I put a piece of classical music on the stereo, thinking it would please him.

Our friend soon grew silent, responding to our chitchat with short, polite answers, but seemingly lost in thought. As we rose to go to the table, I left the stereo on as "background music." But he gently demurred. In effect, he said, "I can't eat, talk, and concentrate on really listening to this wonderful music." We had to choose. The stereo was silenced.

A terrific article on listening to music by Fred Kronacher, a classical pianist, on the MSNBC Web site, elaborates on this point.

Because recorded music is now so pervasive, he writes, "We're being knocked silly by background music.... For the first time, most music that is 'heard' is not 'listened' to. We're not even supposed to pay attention to it... We're actually being trained to 'not listen' to music. We're learning how to tune it out."

We may not be able to avoid "musical wallpaper" at restaurants, in banks, or even on elevators, but we can control our private time and space.

Make time to really listen to music thoughtfully, he says. "Don't let your musical sensitivities be overwhelmed by a relentless, commercial wave of mindless music-noise that threatens our ability to think clearly, reflect calmly, consider mindfully, and, yes, to simply listen.

"Music jealously guards her deepest secrets. She yields them only to those who listen with full concentration. To these she extends a life-nourishing embrace."

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that paintings by 19th-century artist Martin Johnson Heade, the subject of a show now at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, were still being found in attics and at tag sales. Now wire reports tell of an even curiouser find: artworks in a rolled-up window shade.

British artist David Hockney faxed copies of five of his works to his sister in 1989, who mounted them on a window shade. Eventually, she rolled up the shade and forgot about them. A new owner of the house found them and put the faxes up for auction, where they were bought for about $18,000.

"Hockney tried desperately to stop it going to auction," the buyer, Peter Nelson, told Reuters. "He feels that because it's faxes ... it has no value. But we're moving into the 21st century, and it doesn't matter what material it's on."

*Send your comments on Arts & Leisure to

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.