on listening

I was just watching a special feature that AMC produces with each new episode of Mad Men, where the creator of the show, Matthew Weiner, was describing the thematic subtext of the episode. It was about displacement, going away to another place, and being with who you want to be with while doing so. This gave me pause, as I hadn’t really been thinking about anything like that when watching the episode. Today, I realized that my experience was like that of many concertgoers who hear a piece of music, and are affected by it – sometimes deeply so – and aren’t aware of why. The piece of music can be completely and justifiably enjoyed without knowing how it is constructed or why it was constructed in that manner. Some pieces are better appreciated if their deep structure is known, but most music can simply be enjoyed (or not) on the listener’s own subjective criteria.

One Reply to “on listening”

  1. Additionally, when the structure is on the “outside” or the “foreground,” of a piece of music, as is the case with so many less-than-great pieces of music, it is difficult to get to the abstract I side of a piece. Kind of like clothes and make up covering or masking the person under them. When the structure is extremely sound, so sound, in fact that you can ignore it and still have the meat clinginging to its bones. That is why Shostakovich is so satisfying. And Beethoven.

    With great music, and with great works of art in general, structure is important for the person making the thing, but not for the person listening, looking, or reading. But as a player you have to know the structure to play the work effectively, because you are participating in the most important part of its existence: being heard.

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