Author Topic: Listening Strategies & Preferences  (Read 276 times)

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Offline clarity82

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Listening Strategies & Preferences
« on: May 05, 2021, 12:58:25 PM »
Long-time lurker on the forum, but first post here! Thank you all for your insights!

I've been listening to classical music for nearly 25 years now, and have found some patterns in my own listening habits that now have me thinking about listening 'strategies' and my own preferences. I'd love to hear what others think about these topics, or if you've found any particular patterns, strategies, and preferences of your own to share.

1. When I'm listening to a new work, I find that I need at least 3-5 listens before I really feel like I've 'heard' a piece. To be honest, I've found this a bit disconcerting since, in many ways, I feel like I'm 'supposed' to 'get' a new work even if I'm hearing it live. Because of this, I've actually found myself avoiding world premieres when they're on concert programs because I like to be able to listen to a piece in advance and again after a concert!

2. I find that I'm always more engaged in my listening when I have the score open in front of me. As I've transitioned away from physical books, music, etc., services like nkoda and IMSLP have been fantastic for this. Does anyone else find 'just' listening difficult? Any particular tips or tricks?

3. As I've moved away from purchasing music to streaming services, I still find myself drawn to the concept of the album, but wonder if I'm alone in this! For example, I first got to know the Dvorak Cello Concerto via the Rostropovich/Karajan recording and, had I not bought the album, I'm not sure I would have ever listened to the Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations that were paired with it. But, because I had the full album, I felt compelled to listen to both works! I find myself doing something similar even with streaming music: Being very intentional about choosing an album even though I could, obviously, just choose a particular performance of a particular work and ignore any other works included on the full album.

Just some oddities I've experienced in my own listening habits and would love to hear from others about theirs. Always on the path to becoming a more engaged, intelligent, and active listener!

Offline steve ridgway

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Re: Listening Strategies & Preferences
« Reply #1 on: May 06, 2021, 01:12:55 AM »
Hello, glad to see someone else is joining in. :)

I too need a few listens to appreciate a lot of this classical music, it doesn’t stick in my memory very easily like popular tunes. Being musically clueless I have no option but to ‘just listen’ and try and concentrate on hearing all the different sounds going on at once, maybe recognising some patterns, but not really analysing or criticising it. I listen to rock albums in their entirety as they’re more of a consistent work, but most classical albums seem almost randomly selected. Although I dare say everyone will now insist they play this all the way through every single time. ::)


Offline Mandryka

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Re: Listening Strategies & Preferences
« Reply #2 on: May 06, 2021, 08:06:48 AM »
I have a friend who is the opposite of me in fact - she is always travelling, she travels alone and to exotic places. When I talk about it to her she says she loves the feeling of disorientation and culture-shock - she’s a French speaker and she uses the French word dépaysement.

Now I’m like her when it comes to music. I like the disorientation - once a piece becomes familiar to me I don’t want to hear it again. For me the longer it takes me to feel comfortable with a piece of music, the better.
Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen

Offline Brian

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Re: Listening Strategies & Preferences
« Reply #3 on: May 06, 2021, 09:21:21 AM »
Because of this, I've actually found myself avoiding world premieres when they're on concert programs because I like to be able to listen to a piece in advance and again after a concert!
Larry Rachleff, conducting professor at the Shepherd School and former music director of the San Antonio Symphony, had a rule that if he conducted a world premiere of a piece shorter than 20 minutes, the orchestra would always play it twice. So after the premiere, people would clap, and then he'd take the podium and grab a microphone and say, "Okay, now we're going to play it for you again." If the piece was bad, it was unfortunate, but usually it was very interesting for the reason you say. Additionally, since most of the premieres have never been performed/recorded again, hearing it live twice was often the best way to get a work into one's memory.

Online foxandpeng

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Re: Listening Strategies & Preferences
« Reply #4 on: May 07, 2021, 05:48:11 PM »
I've also been listening for about 25-30 years. I don't read music or have any musical training, so am very much an amateur. That said, I have similar practices.

I have to listen to a piece several times, often stopping and repeating individual movements several times until it becomes familiar or, at least, not so strange. Some pieces take a long time to crack, in my case. I find l need to just listen to the music without doing anything else at all.
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Offline Madiel

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Re: Listening Strategies & Preferences
« Reply #5 on: May 07, 2021, 07:21:19 PM »
Well that's a very interesting and excellent first post!

My own thoughts on some of these things...

I definitely like listening things multiple times if I don't feel that I've really grasped them first time. This can apply equally to pop albums as well as classical music. When music is new I try to listen intentionally rather than have something on as 'background' in any way. With vocal music I want to be able to read and understand the words (with translation if necessary). I might break something down into separate movements (not necessarily in order) and then re-listen to the whole thing. The way many people churn through new albums scares me a little, I just wouldn't feel I was really engaging with the music at that pace (though of course if it works for them, by all means, I'm just saying it would not work for me).

The point about a world premiere is an interesting one, I think I'd be okay because that would be an environment where listening was the full focus. But yes, the lack of foreknowledge about the musical language could be disorienting.

I listen with scores occasionally, but to be honest I often find that process a bit disappointing. There are composers who are creating tricks for the ear that look different on the page, for example a displaced sense of rhythm doesn't really work if you can see the barlines in front of you. So IMSLP is useful if I'm feeling really lost or puzzled about something, but in general I try to resist the temptation.

I will, though, often quite happily listen while ironing or doing the washing up (I don't own a dishwasher, gasp), so that my body has something to do while my brain is largely occupied with music.

I am very much drawn to the album in pop music, but a lot less so in classical music where the album is a creation of the performer, not the composer. I still buy CDs, but for works of more than a few minutes I will usually only listen to one work at a time. An album collecting works by the same composer in the same genre might be combining things that were written decades apart. Having said that, there definitely are times when a classical album, like a concert program, can show an artistic thought process and then there are real benefits to listening to the album in full.

As for other quirks, well lots of people here are now aware of my habit of going through a composer's body of work in chronological order (the degree of precision of the chronology varies). I just find it enlightening and more realistic - see the earlier point about how an album might bring together works that a composer wrote decades apart. While I don't propose that I need to listen in "real time" so that if there were 5 years between the premiere of works I need to wait 5 years, I do find that this approach is at least a little more akin to how contemporary audiences would have encountered a composer, and how we encounter pop music in our own lifetime.
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Offline Artem

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Re: Listening Strategies & Preferences
« Reply #6 on: May 08, 2021, 07:42:49 AM »
My strategy is to seize a moment of peace and quietness, put on a cd and lie on the sofa. These moments are very rare, yet the list of CDs that I have or want to listen grows longer and longer. I cannot listen to music on the background as I used to before when I was studying for example. I feel like I need to be 100% with it.

Offline Maestro267

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Re: Listening Strategies & Preferences
« Reply #7 on: May 08, 2021, 10:19:17 PM »
I am very much drawn to the album in pop music, but a lot less so in classical music where the album is a creation of the performer, not the composer. I still buy CDs, but for works of more than a few minutes I will usually only listen to one work at a time.

This. If I do listen to two works on the same disc, I will usually step away from the player for a little bit between each one, to mark a clear delineation between one work and the next. Otherwise it feels like the next work is merely the second movement of the previous one.

Offline clarity82

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Re: Listening Strategies & Preferences
« Reply #8 on: May 11, 2021, 08:09:42 AM »
Thanks, everyone, for the various replies!

The album or work question is one I've been thinking more about. It's interesting how, often, with reissues in particular, the works on an album aren't the choice of the performer or conductor involved, but rather the choice of the label. So, for example, Karajan recorded Prokofiev's 5th symphony (often considered a classic), but I've seen it paired with the 1st (DG Galleria release) or Stravinsky's Rite of Spring (often considered a dud) (DG Originals release). Not sure which was the original - if either - but it's interesting to note that the label is likely making these decisions and one or both weren't some vision from the conductor of what to pair the recording of the 5th with. Sometimes the decisions result in useful pairings; other times they seem to make no sense at all.

I like the thought of maybe using the album as an organizing factor for non-classical music, where it seems to make more sense, and to use a work as the primary organizing factor for classical. Excellent thoughts, all!