by Will Mee
Will Mee, our bass trombone and tuba tutor shares some thoughts on listening to music, focusing on the importance of broadening our musical horizons, listening critically and exploring the wider context.
I have recently reconnected with music. As a musician, I always thought that music would be there when I needed it and I took music for granted. On my commute to teaching or on the drive to and from a gig I would usually have Radio 4 on the car stereo or a podcast or audiobook playing.
All of that changed a few months ago. The car stayed on the driveway and all the gigs had been cancelled. I found myself switching off the current affairs programs and tuning into Radio 3 or rooting around in my dusty collection of CDs for a piece that had suddenly sprung to mind. I even discovered an old iPod that was crammed full of music and I wondered how it was that, as a working musician, I had forgotten and neglected this treasure.
My love of classical music started at a very early age in a perfectly ordinary primary school that just happened to be a very musical environment and this continued through upper school where a fine music teacher and a well-stocked library of recordings continued to fuel my enthusiasm. I had lots of ensemble playing alongside this which was hugely important to me but I viewed listening to music as equally important. If I could not find a recording of a piece at school, I would get the bus into Leicester and walk through the city to the central library. I also went to concerts when I could. My first classical concert was a primary school trip to see a performance of Beethoven 5 at De Montfort Hall in Leicester (I can still remember the snoring from the deputy headteacher in the row behind me).
We all seem to have a bit more time on our hands just lately and this is an ideal time to make time to listen. You could start by searching for a version of the piece you are playing or an orchestral excerpt you are working on then take it from there. You could look for a version of your piece played on a different instrument and think about the different style or approach needed. Widen your listening by listening to a whole suite or symphony. You don’t need to sit counting bars rest but you could think how your part or excerpt fits in context. Think about structure, rhythms, textures or harmonies that point to a certain period of music. What else has this composer written? Who else was writing at the same time? What were the composer’s influences? Did this piece influence other composers? What was happening in history or art at the time a piece of music was written? Most of all, and probably the most human reaction, how does the music make you feel? There are pieces of music that can reduce me to a blubbering mess but I am not going to tell you what they are.
I will continue to ask students if they have listened to a piece of music and if they say no I will tell them the story of a young trombone player walking through a rainy city centre heading to the bus station for the long ride home carrying an armful of records.