Often students listen to music to manage their moods, enhance a workout or study session, bond with other students and as a distraction from daily life. Are you listening to heavy metal as a means to relieve stress? Researchers would have us believe that listening to certain genres of music results in a connection of the struggle in the music to the struggle in life itself. The beauty of the IB Music course is the transformation of our listening experience from “I like the way it sounds” to a much deeper levels discussed below. Unleashing the layers of expression, unraveling the musical elements contained within, students can ultimately obtain a deeper understanding and increase their interest in listening to music.
The beginning of the year is a terrific opportunity to explore Aaron Copland’s book, What to Listen For In Music. In this book, Aaron Copland analyzes how most listeners actually hear music, and how they might enrich their listening experience. Although Copland exemplifies his ideas with references to classical music, what he says about the three different ways of listening can be applied to other genres of music as well. Copland organizes his essay around the three planes—or ways—of listening. He clarifies what he means by the sensory, expressive, and musical experience of listening by defining, illustrating and contrasting them with one another. Copland lays out his ideas with clarity and directness, proving just the right amount of detail to make his explanations clear. He suggests that most people listen to music only in the most primitive way, remaining on what he calls the “sensuous plane,” in which the listeners simply bask in the sheer beauty of musical sounds. In discussing the “expressive plane,” Copland raises questions about the meaning of music, arguing that music’s meanings are complex and shifting, and that the more complex and various the meaning of any piece of music, the greater and more lasting it is. Finally, in describing the “musical plane,” Copland urges his readers to listen actively not only for melody and rhythm, but for harmony and tone color, and especially to listen for and learn about musical form. What begins as an essay of explanation becomes in the end an attempt to persuade as Copland argues for a more complex and complete way of listening to music, one that includes a conscious awareness of what we are hearing. Herein lies one goal of IB Music: to engage the ability to listen to music on a variety of planes rather than the sensuous plane where this blog began. In fact, Copland himself pleads….
“It is very important for all of us to become more alive to the music on its sheerly musical plane….The intelligent listener must be prepared to increase his awareness of the musical material and what happens to it. He must hear the melodies, the rhythms, the harmonies, the tone color in a more conscious fashion. But above all he must, in order to follow the line of the composer’s thought, know something of the principals of musical form. Listening to all of these elements is listening on the sheerly musical plane.”
We are with you on this mission, Mr Copland. In IB Music, we learn to listen to the expressive plane to find the expressive quality of a theme or an entire piece. If we find the music to be a great work of art, we listen to it again and again, having it change meaning each time. As we grasp the initial elements of music we are learning in the beginning of this course, we will strive to listen and transform the experience by becoming more conscious and aware. Whether it be the Gregorian Chant, Messuggah, Taylor Swift, Beethoven or muzak, we strive to be someone who is not JUST listening, but someone who is listening for SOMETHING. Imagine the satisfaction found at the end of the IB Music year as we acknowledge that we listen to music now in an a new way, having transformed our own listening experience.
IB Music Teachers, if you would like a copy of a short synopsis of What To Listen To Music and worksheet, please email [email protected].