Listening Like a Composer

On August 27, 2006, the New York Times pub­lished a review of Francine Prose’s book, “Read­ing Like A Writer: A Guide for Peo­ple Who Love Books and for Those Who Want To Write Like Them.” The review was writ­ten by Emily Bar­ton, and makes some salient points that we as com­posers might heed.

The sub­ject at hand is: How do you teach this art? There aren’t too many good books out there that teach you how to be a writer (or a composer).

In her review, Bar­ton points out that a

dif­fi­culty faced by writ­ing teach­ers is, para­dox­i­cally, the lack of inter­est many stu­dents show in reading.”

Isn’t this true amongst many com­posers, too? How often do we lis­ten to some­thing new, or do we always go back to the same stand­bys when we lis­ten? Are we fre­quent con­cert goers, do we splurge on CDs by new com­posers, do we show an inter­est in composition?

Part of the prob­lem is that read­ing (or “lis­ten­ing”) can be a chore. Who wants to be force-fed some­thing they are not inter­ested in? In her book, Prose sug­gests that we need to savor the expe­ri­ence, and that to do so

may require some rewiring, unhook­ing the con­nec­tion that makes you think you have to have an opin­ion about the book and recon­nect­ing the wire to what­ever ter­mi­nal lets you see read­ing as some­thing that might move or delight you.”

In other words, go out and lis­ten to some music just for the joy of it!

About Richard D. Russell

This was written by Richard D. Russell, New York City based composer of fine music.