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Listen More Than Sing

06.04.20 | by Tom Sabatino

Listen More Than Sing

    Perhaps we can apply some lessons I learned with my music classroom students and try to listen more than sing...

    by Tom Sabatino, Director of Music

    When I was teaching music to high school students, I offered that once we learned a piece of music, we should then “listen more than sing.”

    This concept suggested that each singer focus more on the parts that didn’t belong to them rather than the parts that they were singing. i.e. the sopranos should listen more to the altos, tenors and basses, rather than their own part, and likewise for the other voices. This type of listening encouraged vocal blending, as well as fostering a sense of reaching out to understand how the total “vocal” picture could sound.  Likewise, it was designed to discourage self-centeredness, which in choral music tends to take the form of a solo sound rather than a blended sound.

    Difficult to do, but with practice, anything is possible.

    Upon using this practice for a time, I discovered it had more far-reaching implications. When we stopped singing to talk about the text of the music, I asked everyone to actively listen to each other and avoid judgment while each person took their turn talking. “Oh, you mean like, when you say listen more than sing?” a student exclaimed.  “Exactly!” I said. “Difficult to do, but with practice, anything is possible.”

    I found this remarkable! When I asked them to listen to each other as they shared their individual perspectives about text, people were beginning to actively listen and focus on what their classmates were saying. “Don’t worry about how you might respond or what you’d like to say when they finish speaking.”  The choral classroom became a safe place for anyone to share their feelings, in a judgement-free zone! What a pleasure it was to see these young people offering to share their perspectives, wisdom and hearts without fear of retribution. They were learning the lost art of listening; a skill that I believe the world truly needs now.

    How do we as a community of faith practice this, especially with the horrific events of the past couple of weeks, and the constant barrage of news and social media posts?  Many people are speaking, but how many of us are truly listening; listening in a way that doesn’t involve judgement? Listening without the baggage of a lifetime of opinions and noise? Listening with a childlike innocence?

    I am definitely struggling with this one. My mind is constantly feeding me instantaneous feedback on how I should feel and what I should say; as well as what side I should take. And I can’t escape the fact that I tend to judge others on their actions, but judge myself on my intentions.

    Perhaps we can apply some lessons I learned with my music classroom students and try to listen more than sing.  What if we opened our ears and hearts to the voices around us; to blend more and try to understand the bigger picture?  Sure, there are clearer cases of right and wrong; justice versus injustice. However, we must never forget that our individual experiences make up our perspective, so while it may be difficult to have a conversation with someone in which we totally disagree - active authentic listening is how we learn and grow as a society, as a community of faith where “God’s love has the run of the house.” Jesus said in Matthew 18: vs.3, “Truly I tell you, unless you become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

    Difficult to do, but with practice, anything is possible.