2017 Rock Music Big Year: Can you cultivate listening skills?

“Listen” . . . trivial to utter, harder to do. Most of my generation only listens to stuff they absorbed four decades ago and they’re not listening in any real sense. They’re singing along to a soundtrack in their minds. Maria Popova (Brain Pickings) summed up a 1982 book, Elliott Schwartz’s “Music: Ways of Listening,” as recommending the following seven cultivated skills:

  • Develop your sensitivity to music
  • Develop a sense of time as it passes
  • Develop a musical memory
  • Acquire a working vocabulary
  • Try to develop musical concentration
  • Try to listen objectively and dispassionately
  • Bring experience and knowledge to the listening situation

The author’s genre was classical music, what I call “fossilized pop music,” and there’s no doubt that listening to R.E.M. or Sex Pistols or Can or Guided By Voices is fundamentally different to appreciating Mozart, but what I like about the above list is that it exhorts me to develop skills. We’re told that appreciating fine art in galleries is partly an acquired habit and sensibility – why should music be any different?

Over 2017, will regular listening to new music enrich my listening skills? That’s certainly what I’m hoping.

2017 Rock Music Big Year: Old people struggle to change habits

Next year I’m meant to listen to an album each and every day. When I say listen, I mean really listen, take heed, absorb, LISTEN. I’m practising right now and it’s a right disaster. Last week my holiday packing incorporated headphones and three albums on my iPhone, and being holidays, practising the art of listening proved straightforward, right? Not at all – I failed miserably. The days were busy and for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to concentrate in an antisocial manner.

Why? When I was young, listening to music was like breathing fresh air. Easy as easy could be. Having fallen out of the habit over the last decade (two decades?), it feels alien to listen deeply, absorbedly. I see the same phenomenon with 60s-aged friends who say they can’t read books, so they don’t ever do so, not at all. Put them in a book group, however, force them to read a book a month, and after a year or so, bingo, they become committed readers.

The lesson for me? Practise now and get over this reluctance!

(Photo via Visual Hunt)

2017 Rock Music Big Year: Not so easy, practice needed

Practising listening to rock music albums, surely that’s not needed! I’ve ears, I listen, done, right? Well, with just over a month to go until New Year’s Day, my practising reveals problems. Listening – deep enough listening – aint easy while writing and I’m not a headphones-on-train kind of person and I hate being antisocial at home. What do I listen to? I subscribe to Kindle versions of Uncut and Q magazines, but although they’re terrific, I have the sense they’d lead me to old-person music that isn’t fresh enough. But I can’t spend hours trawling the Internet for cutting-edge indie music. Those two problems are not the only ones.  How do I keep track of the complex mix of stuff I might listen to, how do I choose between this or that, how do I record my aim of listening to each album three times, how do I record that I’ve actually done so, etc., etc., etc.?

Confusion abounds. And this is meant to be the “oh so easy, on the sidelines” Big Year, ranking well behind writing and cycling! The answer right now? Keep practising. (Image modified from Mink Mingle’s photo on Unsplash)

Rock Music Big Year: Will someone please build an app?

What would a “Strava for music listeners be like”?

Put this down as my geekiest thought ever. Strava lets me record a run or ride as it happens and then provides complete documentation of the action. No need for separate lists, databases, nothing.

Why not the same for listening to rock music albums? If I listened to a song, the song would be identified (that is, I wouldn’t need to write it down beforehand) and ticked off with the closing notes (that is, no need to write down a tick mark). If I got through an entire album of songs, the album would be noted for all time as “listened to on such-and-such date.” At any time of the year, I could check out this mythical app to easily see how much listening I’ve done, what it comprised and when I did it.

You won’t be startled to hear that the mythical app is, after all, a myth. There is no “GPS for music listening.” Music comes from so many sources and is heard in so many ways that nothing will automatically track the activity, let alone store it for posterity. Googling this notion produces a welter of manual methods used. Listeners use all manner of documentation methods and kludges.

For my Rock Music Big Year, I decide to set up a precise, almost elegant Evernote notebook and recording template. It will have to do.

(Photo by Callie Morgan)

2017 Rock Music Big Year: Why the hell not?

I hereby commit to listening to a rock music album every day of next year. A full album every day, beginning January 1 and ending December 31. From one angle, this decision is minor – surely it can’t be hard to bend an ear to music for forty minutes in a day? More accurately, the decision is minor but significant – in the thick of life, how do I ensure this gets done each and every day?