In the Ears of the Listener

There is a power in music.

It is almost other-worldly.

It has this incredible way of conveying meaning – with or without words – in a way that can shift our very emotions, minds, and souls simply by creating invisible vibrations through the atmosphere.

But, much as beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, the effect of music is in the ears of the listener.

Most of us tend to naturally listen to music as entertainment, amusement. When we listen for this reason, we are listening instinctually – it is a learned response to music. This way to listen, reason to listen, happen to listen, is how music is most widely projected and used and sold in our western culture. It is the way to listen which comes most effortlessly and only takes a surface-level listen by the human ear to perceive. This is the type of listening that tends to encourage us to sing happily along and seems to magically move our bodies without our regard.

Then there are those who take it a step deeper and allow the rhythms and melodies to shift them emotionally. They are those of us who listen with our heart. While this sounds deep – moving the emotions – in reference to music it is not the type of listening which takes the most effort, for music is intrinsically emotional.

There are also the more intellectual types who listen with the mind. They most often focus in on the lyrics, analyzing and observing. That is, unless they are the intellectual types who are natural artists. The intellectual artist may focus his listening mind on the musical engineering of a song.

Those who listen with their soul are usually those who have been nurtured in an environment that endorses spiritual introspection and/or projection, or whose combination of life experiences and personality have postured them in a way to embrace and discover their spirituality.

Those who listen with their soul listen even more deeply than those who listen with their minds; listening with the soul requires more effort to begin (unless trained to from birth because of environment, e.g. those raised in a church with emphasis on emotionally engaging worship music) – more effort to learn. Listening with the soul requires a deeper knowledge and curiosity about your self and one’s relationship to the spiritual realm.

Let me pause here to explain that I do not believe all those who “connect” through “worship music” at church are all listening with the soul. Listening with the soul requires engagement. I believe most of those who might believe they are engaging in music with the soul are actually listening with their heart – with emotion. They feel emotionally involved in a moving song and that is what they believe “connects them to God.” But a song with the same words could be stylistically changed and their emotions no longer allow them to connect with God. Or vice versa. I tend to question if that connection is always valid in these cases at all.

I never distinguished the difference between listening emotionally and spiritually until I heard a song so intrinsically spiritual and introspective that it prompted me to listen with my very soul. It didn’t simply shift my heart or engage my mind. The harmonies touched my heart and the lyrics brushed my mind and the entirety of the piece then gripped my soul.

And I could not move.

I could only allow the tears to come. The spiritual involvement with the song was such that I haven’t the words to describe. Lyrics and harmonies then came back up from my soul to challenge my mind and provoke the tears from my heart.

But the moment the song gripped my soul was the moment I was listening with my soul – beyond my amusement, my heart or my mind.

I believe we are able to walk ourselves up from the passive listening to amusement, through our natural tendency to listen with heart or mind, into learning to listen with our souls. Then, when the right song comes about, we may be able to listen even more intimately.

You might think listening with the soul is the deepest level of listening to and engaging in music. I probably did as well. But as I said, after it gripped my soul, it came back up and, with my soul, affected my mind and heart as well.

The deepest, most involved way to listen to music, is with one’s entire being.

I feel I have only done this twice to my recollection. Both moments were nearly indescribable. Both required initial concentration then allowing the song to do the rest. At both times, I was not just listening to any song or artist. I was listening to lyrics and musical construction both created, played and vocalized by the same person(s). The piece is not completely whole and full unless it’s all there. It’s as if you can almost feel someone else’s very soul in the music itself.

There is a power in music.

It is almost other-worldly.

And yet, it is here on earth with us.

Did we create it? I doubt we humans can credit ourselves as the originators of the idea. Yet we still are able to participate in the creation of it.

We are affected by the power of it. And we sill have the opportunity to choose and learn how we engage it.

I would say we have intense power over a very intimately powerful, mysterious and remarkable thing.

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