Listening (4'33''/back to school)

As a musician, listening is everything.  We live in an age of hyper-stimulation, where commercials are noticeably louder than the content you want to watch in an attempt to shock you into paying attention.  In John Cage's famous 'silent piece' "4'33"" the performer attempts to make no sound, the idea being that the audience enters a place of heightened perception where they become aware of all the background sounds in that location.  

I remember being in a first-year music course and when we listened to this piece everyone immediately noticed this unpleasant heater buzz that dominated the room.  Although not as interesting as the suppressed coughs and sneezes in a quiet concert hall, the monotone of the buzz did take me to a strange meditative place... for about 30 seconds.  At which point another student said: "This is pointless" and launched into a debate that this wasn't music.  While maybe I can agree that this wasn't a very enjoyable thing to listen to, I can think of much uglier things, like good music being played out of tune, or that student's whining at having to sit still for a short time.  

As a jazz musician, listening focus is greatly heightened when you play, because you have to be aware of what everyone you are playing with is doing and what direction they might be heading in.  Sometimes when I play in a bar, I enjoy the background of people chatting and clinking glasses- it takes some pressure off of me and I feel like I can take more chances.  At any rate I find if far more pleasing than the sound of someone being shushed.

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