Friday, August 02, 2013

You can recognise a classical adept by the way he listens

The novice formation in the Buddhist tradition is very simple. The novice learns to be present in whatever he is doing. While closing the door you learn to be truly present while closing the door. While cooking you are truly present in the cooking. While washing your hands you learn to be truly present as you wash your hands... Thus after meeting [the Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh] in 1966, the Trappist monk Thomas Merton remarked that he could recognise that Thich Nhat Hanh was a real monk by simply watching him close the door.
That quote comes from Sister Annabel Laity's introduction to Thich Nhat Hanh: Essential Writings. Perennial wisdom traditions such as Buddhism can teach classical music a lot more than Max Hole and rock music. Being present mentally as well as physically is the only way classical music can be experienced. Too many of classical music's big new ideas actually make the audience less present mentally. Yes, we need to experiment and challenge. But classical music is not rock music and teaching new listeners to be present is the key to reaching new classical audiences. Classical music needs to sell 'inner-tainment' not entertainment. Just as you can recognise a Zen master by the way he closes the door, so you can recognise a classical music adept by the way he listens.

Yes, I know classical adepts are both male and female. Wherever possible I try to make posts gender neutral, but that headline simply didn't work when gender neutral because of the guy in the photo. That photo is via Between the Horns blog. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.


billoo said...

Pli, I would have thought he could recognize him by the way he *opens* the door?




Elaine Fine said...

You can often recognize a good player by the way he opens his case (using the "he" in your disclaimer). Teaching people to be present while listening to classical music, particularly when it is music of the classical period, where the treatment of material is often subtle, is the only way to get people to engage on a more than superficial level. In order to teach music that way you must be ultra present yourself. Part of the gratification for new listeners is having actually paid attention and having noticed details in a composition or a performance (or both). It is vitally important for performing musicians to be hyper-present as well. If not, they are cheating their listeners.