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Founded in 1923 by Sir Compton Mackenzie and Christopher Stone as ‘an organ of candid opinion for the numerous possessors of gramophones’
The art of listening must not be allowed to fade
Last month I gave a talk to the Federation of Recorded Music Societies, the body which supports more than 200 groups throughout the UK dedicated to listening to and discussing recordings. My given topic was ‘trends in the recording industry’, and it was just one part of a weekend of presentations and performances. Here was a gathering in which the art of active listening was alive and well. Which of course isn’t a new concept to Gramophone’s readers: it’s clear from so much of the correspondence we receive about topics from performances to audio equipment, that listening is something you take very seriously indeed.
But how many people in wider society do likewise? We’re bombarded at almost all moments by countless competing demands on our attention, and what we see and hear, whether three-minute pop songs or the rapid frame cutting of much film and television, so often seems built on, and thus reinforces, the notion that we have increasingly short attention spans.
The art of sitting, concentrating and listening to something long-form and complex is an increasingly alien experience. And unless people develop that skill, classical music will face an uphill struggle.
There are many inspiring organisations and initiatives arguing for greater opportunities for children to play instruments. From the committed campaigning of Julian Lloyd Webber, to the BBC’s colourful Ten Pieces project, the emphasis is usually on how performing can change lives. The BBC describes Ten Pieces as aiming to ‘inspire [children] to develop their own creative responses to the pieces through music, dance or digital art’. All of which is wonderful – but what might prove just as enriching is if it also teaches them to listen. As one of the ambassadors for Ten Pieces, harpist Catrin Finch, put it last year in an interview: ‘We forget how to sit down and listen to something. What’s important is that children learn to appreciate music and enjoy music.’
Listening and playing are linked of course. The greatest musicians are necessarily brilliant listeners, and even at more modest levels, playing an instrument – to whatever standard – is an excellent way of appreciating the complexity and challenges of music. My two-year-old daughter attends Colourstrings, a teaching method in which singing leads on to playing. But equally crucial is a focus on listening. Parents can buy recordings on which the simple songs their toddlers learn are followed by orchestral pieces which draw on and develop those melodies, the goal being ‘that of educating children to become active in their listening to music of value’. Which, as Editor of Gramophone, was indeed music to my ears. When I visited Julian Bream prior to his receiving Gramophone’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013, he explained how he’d ‘changed from a player into a listener’ since retirement. ‘I listen in a more acute way now,’ he said. ‘I think quite a lot about music, particularly now I don’t play anything – my mind is always cogitating.’ We should all take inspiration from Bream’s belief in the active and enriching experience of listening – and recognise the importance of nurturing it in others. firstname.lastname@example.org
THIS MONTH’S CONTRIBUTORS
Collection articles are always a labour of love, and PETER QUANTRILL found that he was no less intrigued
‘Iván Fischer brought a refreshing simplicity to his analysis of Mahler’s Ninth,’ recalls writer and entertained by every bar of Haydn’s Drumroll Symphony now that he has listened to 60-plus versions of it. ‘Why can’t we hear it in concert more often?,’ he wonders, ‘and what do those folksongs mean?’
REBECCA SCHMID, who has written our Musician and the Score feature this issue. ‘He explained that the music in this symphony can be understood as a mercurial Œlow of motives, emotions and images.’
‘Whole books have been written about Tristan und Isolde and its inŒluence,’ says HUGO SHIRLEY, who celebrates
Wagner’s opera in this month’s cover feature. ‘But it is nevertheless fascinating to try and put into words what this intoxicating work means to us today, 150 years after its premiere; that famous chord is, in all senses, just the beginning.’
THE REVIEWERS Andrew Achenbach • Nalen Anthoni • Mike Ashman • Philip Clark • Alexandra Coghlan • Rob Cowan (consultant reviewer) • Jeremy Dibble • Peter Dickinson • Jed Distler • Duncan Druce • Adrian Edwards Richard Fairman • David Fallows • David Fanning • Iain Fenlon • Fabrice Fitch • Jonathan Freeman-Attwood Caroline Gill • Edward GreenŒield • David Gutman • Lindsay Kemp • Philip Kennicott • Tess Knighton • Richard Lawrence • Ivan March • Andrew Mellor • Ivan Moody • Bryce Morrison • Jeremy Nicholas • Christopher Nickol • GeoŒfrey Norris Richard Osborne • Stephen Plaistow • Peter Quantrill • Guy Rickards • Malcolm Riley • Marc Rochester • Julie Anne Sadie • Edward Seckerson • Pwyll ap Siôn • Harriet Smith • Ken Smith • David Patrick Stearns • David Threasher • David Vickers • John Warrack • Richard Whitehouse • Arnold Whittall • Richard Wigmore • William Yeoman gramophone.co.uk
Gramophone, which has been serving the classical music world since 1923, is irst and foremost a monthly review magazine, delivered today in both print and digital formats. It boasts an eminent and knowledgeable panel of experts, which reviews the full range of classical music recordings. Its reviews are completely independent. In addition to reviews, its interviews and features help readers to explore in greater depth the recordings that the magazine covers, as well as o fer insight into the work of composers and performers. It is the magazine for the classical record collector, as well as for the enthusiast starting a voyage of discovery.
GRAMOPHONE JUNE 2015 3