Feeding your ears right

This morning’s drivetime saw the welcome introduction of CD2 (working my way through the set) after some pop hits which Miss S was grooving to. There were unfortunately a couple on the compilation bearing such empty-calorie junk-food lyrics that boil down to nothing but sexual titillation (Swalla, and Work from Home, in case you were wondering), set to a worryingly infectious beat.

As a mother I find myself often torn between teaching the children how objectionable I find the lyrics and why (which might just end up making them listen even more closely!! 😳), and just ignoring the words which I doubt anyone is listening to with as much attention as I am anyway.

But the brutal truth of parenting growing children nowadays is – the material *finds its way* to them somehow, anyway. I only knew about Swalla because, as we were listening to the compilation (Now That’s What I Call Summer Party 2017, which has loads of other fun tunes in our karaoke repertoire) for the first time, it came on, I didn’t know it, but B recognised the intro beat, told me in delight “I really like this song, Mama”, and proceeded (like we all do when we really like a song!) to try and make out the lyrics so he could sing along to it. 😳

He had heard it somewhere, most likely mainstream radio.

And *that* is the problem.

This kind of stuff is –mainstream–.

I wrote what I wrote in my previous Liszt post deliberately: human beings can’t help but learn through constant and prolonged exposure to something, anything, even crap. The Chinese have a well-known saying: 近朱者赤,近墨者黑. 朱 is the red pigment that you see on traditional Chinese art and calligraphy which often only have another element, 墨, the black Chinese ink, which together with the white of rice paper make up the basic building blocks of many classic Chinese paintings. I’ve always read this saying from the pictorial angle (whether accurately or not…). Simply put, the proximity to vermilion renders you red; proximity to ink renders you black.

Have you ever really paid attention to what passes for mainstream in your everyday – songs, ads, the storylines of books and movies?

How do we equip our young ones with the tools, skills, and motivation to navigate such waters? Because – and I have seen this coming to our family for a long time, given their growing ages and exposure to the world – the shadow side of neutral tools like our digital interconnectedness is only getting worse.

Now you can perhaps better perceive why I care so much about practical ethics.

Amuse-bouche (insert gallows laugh here) over, let me get on to the main course, which is what made me originally pick up my phone to scribble this quickly, while my impressions from the last half-hour are still fresh.

The one thing above everything else that I found so fascinating today was observing how change *happens* inside oneself. Change that necessitates the shakeup of attachments that are both cherished and habituated. (They can be one, or the other, or both; and habituation can operate at several levels of consciousness. We all have, like our favourite junk food, attachments that we probably don’t fancy looking too closely at. But like Alan said, comparing awareness and our impulses and drives to an 80-pound man trying to take a 160-pound dog for a walk – who is actually taking whom for a walk? Especially when our awareness is so untrained that we are literally un-aware of so many drivers that literally dictate our behaviour. Every day. All the time, that we are operating on mindless autopilot. And, speaking for myself, that can be a LOT.)

Since I saw Pollini playing Liszt live (albeit not the Sonata) four years ago in Southbank I have been listening steadily to his Chopin, and enjoying them a great deal. So much so that, when I returned to my stalwart favourite Chopin interpreter Rubinstein the other day, I could tell my ear and preference had evolved. I literally hear different things. And I respond differently emotionally, too. (Quick signpost here to the fundamentally illusory and shapeshifting nature of our corporeal and mental experiences.)

I could sense myself reflexively bracing against Arrau’s version this morning, coming in as I did with Pollini’s version memorised in my insides. I also enjoyed Kissin’s version very much; he blew me away playing this live in Southbank two decades ago, also Zimmermann. Here’s Kissin in a live performance:

Yet it was Arrau I had to prepare myself to hear. It was this piece that led me to this CD box set in the first place. I was curious to find out which version is generally regarded to be the “greatest”, if there is one (which has something of the same flavour as the perennial argument about which is the greatest chicken rice 😁). And this article gave me Arrau’s name, as I hardly listen to him otherwise. http://www.enjoythemusic.com/magazine/music/0710/classical/liszt_b_minor_sonata.htm

Here he is: https://youtu.be/5u016YaZthQ

Herein lies one of the great charms of classical music – and theatre and dance too – where as the performing arts with such timeless and enduring masterpieces in the repertoire, as an interpreter in addition to consumer one faces up again and again to the intriguing tension between the “original” work and its creator, and one’s interpretation of that work.

Consuming other acclaimed versions of the same piece of music is a constant source of marvel for me. One would think that there are lots of instructions the composer leaves a performer in the score on “how to play”. But in fact, this, too, is pure convention. (I.e. made-up. Various composers were variously careful/sloppy about writing things down, and I read once that this present elevation of “fidelity to the music” to the point of inflexible dogma is a relatively recent performance evolution…that improvisations, cadenzas, and active co-creation of the music by the performer was what was once expected, by the composers themselves not just the audience.)

Learning to loosen my own attachments and preconceptions therefore, through the behavioural act of paying close, trained, positively motivated attention to my perceiving of a piece of music – whether from the gutter or the stars – is proving to be a source of significant value and application.

Reading/learning about background – the filling in of fact and theory – helps greatly in the sharpening and directing of the practice. I found this to be as resoundingly true in the retreat as I have in the last 36 years of piano playing, or indeed, in my professional work as a coach, trainer, or communicator.

And yet, the mind-and-body work I have begun to practice has impacted me in a profoundly different way already. I realise I am less prone to going in to fight. To defend, critically analyse, weigh up against. That may seem like a paradox, considering I was writing about different interpretations of Liszt above. But I have learnt how to stop clinging to one. To be more open to another. To still somehow manage to bring discernment to the perception of a quality (the velvetness of his touch, the precisely-planned buildup from soft to loud in a mounting passage) yet not attach an emotional reaction straightaway, for example (“Do I like it or I don’t? Do I prefer the other one? Why?”… and already the shutters in the mind close, close, close, and the mind spins its own justifications merrily away. You can actually *watch* this happening within yourself).

The glorious thing is, this improvement of attentional quality is literally its own reward. Life itself becomes full of vivid interest. I can attest to the fact that the pleasure of the experiencing of this training of attention can (and should) serve as a potent source of motivation itself to keep getting better at it.

And I also know somehow that within **here** lies the possible solution for a world wearied by overstimulation. Sex, kicks, more girls, more booty, jism money sex bling party sex flesh oh yeah baby bring it on. More. Always, more this more that. Never enough.

What if the solution to reclaiming the meaning of life lies not in the surely asymptotic trajectory of shock-and-awing senses that have been dulled by years and decades of bad consumption habits – but in the deceptively simple exercise of tuning those senses to their optimum capacity? So the immense beauty that is already freely all around us can be ever more precisely tuned into?

PS. My solution was to tell S I understand why she likes these songs, but we won’t listen to them any more because Mama doesn’t like what the songs are about and I would rather listen to something else with her. At age 6 she needs no further explanation; I’ll cross the 8- and 11-year-old bridges when I get to them.

She has accepted this and moved on; no longer an issue, in that beautiful and precious forgetting/letting go that is so natural to a child. And our deal is that we listen to “her” music on the drive out, and “Mama’s” music in the way back. Our version of a balanced diet. ☺️

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