Why Do We Listen?

by abbygoettler

We have just begun to make our way through a journey along one thousand years of listening. Class discussions have featured everything from the Gregorian chant to the Motet to the Opera and many others to come. While every topic of discussion is different, we seem to continue to return to some recurring key themes and questions. Most importantly, we continue to ponder this: “Why do we sing?” Yet, because this is a lecture-based class, and surely not every student is a musician or vocalist, perhaps it is more relevant to ask the question, “Why do we listen?”

Returning to the lecture from September 5th, we discussed generally the purpose of genre and the meaning of “adequate modes of listening.” Why are certain musics created to be listened to in particular ways and settings depending on the genre and tone of the pieces? Additionally, why and in what settings do we choose in listen to these works?

I would like to touch upon a piece of music that is highlighted in one of our recent class readings. I personally have enjoyed listening to “Sumer Is Icumen In” by Anonymous.  It strikes me as a colorful and vibrant piece of music, and listening to the energetic and light male voices puts me in a relaxed and easy mood. However, I have noticed that I enjoy the music most when I am in a bright and happy mood, and I choose to listen to it when the tone of the piece most accurately reflects my own current disposition. Furthermore, I have observed that the piece has a positive effect on me on a sunny, rather than cloudy or rainy, day. When the rays of sun are shining in my room I am capable of imagining that “summer is a-coming in,” and I can easily make a connection with the piece.

Before commenting on this post, perhaps consider listening to the piece in multiple settings. Notice how the change of scenery affects the way you listen to the music. Since we know the music does not change, what parts of our environment allow us to make more personal and meaningful connections with the music? And finally, what moods or atmospheres drive us to listen to certain genres on one day and others on another?