Tag Archives: orchestra

Listening

How do you listen? Do you notice or make note of unusual sounds you hear in your day-to-day life? Have you ever thought about how you listen? Have you caught yourself drifting away from active listening?

Recently an article from the New York Times on Auditory Sightseeing came to my attention. It got me thinking about how we use our sense of hearing, but also how we disregard some sounds entirely.

In my post Listening vs. Hearing, I quoted one of my coaches at McGill University, Michael McMahon, who often said, (referring to a piece of music),

Go and have a listening experience!

How does one have a ‘listening experience’? As humans, we are encouraged to listen to one another in conversation and actively respond to what we’ve heard.

As a musician, I like to think that my listening skills are specially developed when compared with someone who didn’t necessarily study music. But even within the genre of musicians, there are groups of people with a specific set of highly developed listening skills.

An audio technician will have ears finely tuned to what she or he hears when mixing together different tracks. The conductor of an orchestra will have a highly developed sense of hearing so they can ask for different instruments and colours of sound from the orchestra; in order to create a unique experience for the audience.

As a singing performer and teacher of singing, my ears are highly tuned to the human voice and tonality. I can often hear tension in a student’s voice before I see it in their body. What sounds good to them inside their own head may not be optimal singing outside their head!

Sometimes a singer will be listening to their own voice so intently that they forget to be ‘in the moment’ of what they are actually singing (I used to do this a lot!). Public speaking is a similar situation – when we’re nervous, we often get trapped into that running dialogue ‘oh, I said that word incorrectly’, or ‘wow, that sounded stupid’, or ‘hey, they laughed at my joke’.

This train of thought means you’re listening to yourself too much! If you take your attention to listening inside your own head and away from the message you are trying to communicate, then you are robbing your audience of a fuller experience.

Take yourself on a ‘listening tour’ the next time you are out for a walk. Notice different sounds and how they may or may not be pleasant. Notice the rumble of a diesel truck, or some high ‘ping, ping, ping, ping’ sounds as you pass a construction site. Notice the high tonality of birds chirping in the morning. Take note of your neighbourhood sounds and maybe consider starting a ‘sound journal’ – noting the sounds you hear, recording them with your mobile device, or something similar.

One last thought – the following short piece was composed based on birds arranged on a set of wires. Music and sound may be found where you least expect it. How did you listen and what did you hear?

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Resonance

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Sound resonates. Ideas resonate. Singing resonates.

Without getting into a whole bunch of physics about sound waves and sine waves and frequencies, I’m going to stick to a very kinesthetic sense of resonance. The kind you feel when you’re at an amplified concert and the bass thrums through your body. Or the piercing tones of scottish bagpipes that some people find exhilarating and others find grating. (I’m of the former persuasion, myself). Or the kind of resonance that will break a glass.

Resonance and, more specifically, resonating frequencies created by the singing voice be heard over entire orchestras – this singer’s formant is what allows the singing voice to be heard when accompanied by orchestra.

Unamplified.

If you are in the audience, those sounds resonate through your ear, your body, your brain. The resonating notes, instruments, voices and space are part of what makes live music so much more enjoyable and visceral than recorded music.

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘resonate’? Speak it out loud. Notice the consonants. Notice the vowels. Where is the emphasis in the word? Now play around with the emphasis – try it on a different part of the word. Still out loud? Good.

Now, intone the word on a single pitch. Do you feel the vowels resonate through parts of your face? Try it a little louder. Obviously not if you’re at the office or on public transit. That might be awkward.

When you spoke it louder, did you notice more engagement of your abdominal muscles? These are the same muscles used for singing.

Next time you sing in the shower, notice the resonance of the bathroom – lots of hard surfaces for the sound to bounce off. Now, sing in your bedroom – quite different?

Favorable resonance is pleasing to us. Singing is pleasing to us, partly because of that wonderful resonance – the idea of creating sound – either alone or with others in a choir.

Try intoning different words and notice how they ‘resonate’ with you. If you don’t notice anything, try speaking/intoning a little louder. Try it in different parts of your speaking voice – higher, lower etc. Try it in different parts of your home. Speak it into a corner where walls meet and compare to how it sounds when you stand 3 feet from a wall, or towards a window.

Here are a few examples of words to speak, then intone on a single pitch:

Resonate

Hum

Orchestra

Instrument

Happiness

How do you feel when an idea resonates with you? When something resonates with me, I notice a physical reaction – I am physically drawn in to that idea. I might lean closer to the person who expressed it, or into the paper or computer where I am writing it.

Resonance is a call to action, to dive deeper down the rabbit hole of ideas expressed.

Singing is resonance – What else resonates with you?