“Music is the space between the notes.” Claude Debussy
Being able to truly listen is an important skill at any time; it is even more crucial in this time of coronavirus, when some of us are locked down with other people.
Let’s begin this post on listening with Music…. and a look at the magic of the spaces between the notes:
“Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.”
“The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes — ah, that is where the art resides.”
What do the spaces contribute to a musical piece? Think of Beethoven’s fifth and how it begins…..
The spaces between the notes mean that the sounds reverberate majestically, full of dramatic expectation and awe.
The Opening of Beethoven’s Symphony No 5.
Such blanks, such spaces, allow for a resonating, an echo, they are part of the timing of a piece; they are crucial to the creation of atmosphere and beautifully modulated sounds.
“The music is not in the notes,
but in the silence between.”
Music surrounds us….
If we allow ourselves to pause when we are outside, we will hear that there is music all around us, in the whispering of the leaves, in the gentle murmur of the stream, the warbling of birdsong, the humming of insects.
“The earth has music for those who listen.”
Music is also reflected in poetry, so we can listen to the cadences of both poetry and hear the lilt of melody:
“For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity…”
How does all this relate to listening to others speaking?
“It’s a transformative experience to simply pause instead of immediately fill up the space. By waiting, we begin to connect with fundamental restlessness as well as fundamental spaciousness.”
“One of the benchmarks of great communicators is their ability to listen not just to what’s being said, but to what’s not being said as well. They listen between the lines.”
Listening between the lines is a beautiful way of describing what it means to really hear another person.
The phrase combines ‘listening to the music behind the words’ and ‘reading between the lines.’
Whichever of these phrases we use, they all refer to a kind of perception, either through listening, reading or interpreting, which is highly developed and sensitive.
It means that we are able to detect every nuance, hidden meaning, implication, reference and ambiguity in the other’s words.
For this we need an advanced form of understanding and comprehension in relation to what we hear, a refined way of thinking about another’s words.
This will enable us to hear what is, perhaps, not expressed directly, but hinted at or implied.
“I’ve been screaming between these words. Did you notice?”
Munch. The Scream. Wikimedia Commons.
In terms of speech, such spaces may have deep and resonating meaning and importance. They may translate from music into speech, becoming, say, a sharp intake of breath, a hesitation, a meaningful pause.
Only the attuned listener will be able to interpret such hidden signs.
“The older I grow, the more I listen to people who don’t talk much.”
Such attunement, such attentiveness, is especially important for the therapist to develop.
It is also necessary for all us of to learn this in our daily interactions with others around us.
“There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.”
“You can listen to silence, Reuven. I’ve begun to realize that you can listen to silence and learn from it. It has a quality and a dimension all its own. It talks to me sometimes. I feel myself alive in it. It talks. And I can hear it.
You have to want to listen to it, and then you can hear it. It has a strange, beautiful texture. It doesn’t always talk. Sometimes – sometimes it cries, and you can hear the pain of the world in it. It hurts to listen to it then. But you have to.”
The phrase reading between the lines, similarly, means that we will be able to pick up what was not said. Often, we can detect more in the words that are left unsaid.
“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t being said. The art of reading between the lines is a life long quest of the wise.”
Sometimes the words that are left unspoken may, in fact, be the most meaningful.
Listening to Silences.
Picking up visual cues from body language, expressions, gesture, is a kind of listening with the eyes.
It is another way of reading between the lines, that is, interpreting the implied, unsaid message.
Reading, and listening, between the lines is especially relevant to poetry.
By means of symbols, allegory, ambiguity, paradox, inference, implication and other techniques, poetry can express implicit meanings indirectly.
What ‘music’ can you hear behind the words of this poem? What do you think are its hidden implications?
The thrushes sing as the sun is going,
And the finches whistle in ones and pairs,
And as it gets dark loud nightingales
Pipe, as they can when April wears,
As if all Time were theirs.
These are brand-new birds of twelve-months’ growing,
Which a year ago, or less than twain,
No finches were, nor nightingales,
But only particles of grain,
And earth, and air, and rain.
Art , of course, also has subtle messages for us to ‘hear’ and ‘read.’
Often, tackling a subject head-on is less effective than skirting round the outside of it, hinting ambiguously at the subject, creating uncertainty, leaving the reader or viewer to do much of the interpretive and creative work, finding the hidden meanings behind the text.
David Hockney – Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott  Gandalf’s Gallery, Flickr.
When we look at a work of art, we can pick up visual clues, just as we hear clues about the meaning behind people’s words. This is a different way of ‘listening,’ using other senses.
It is the task of the viewer of a painting to come to their own conclusions about what the work means to them. Subtlety leaves room for the viewer to do their own interpretive work, so that they become a part of the whole creative experience. It becomes a visual ‘conversation.’
We are encouraged, in this way, to think about and question what we perceive, as we might do when listening to another person’s speech.
Picasso. Guernica, 1937.
“It isn’t up to the painter to define the symbols. Otherwise it would be better if he wrote them out in so many words. The public who look at the picture must interpret the symbols as they understand them.”