Language is not quite uniquely human but human language far surpasses that of any other species. It is the means by which we communicate with each other, and because of that it is central to human life as we know it. Listening is the receptive end of communication, and it refers not only to the auditory but to every form of communication. “Listening” is merely a word we use to express the general idea of receiving input from others about their ideas, feelings, experiences and any other kind of information.
Technical and Analytical Readings
- Erich Fromm, The Art of Listening (Continuum International Publishing Group, 1994).
- Michael P. Nichols, The Lost Art of Listening, Second Edition: How Learning to Listen Can Improve Relationships (The Guilford Press, 2009).
- Mark Brady, ed., The Wisdom of Listening (Wisdom Publications, 2003).
- Paul J. Donoghue and Mary E. Siegel, Are You Really Listening?: Keys to Successful Communication (Sorin Books, 2005).
- John Durham Peters, Speaking Into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication (University of Chicago Press, 1999) “provides a rich, well documented, and useful foil to the avoidance of issues of theory, history, and the history of theory in the field of communication studies. It opens up the discussion to the important contributions of philosophers, theologians, mystics, and poets to our understanding of the complexity of the ideas clustered in contemporary communication.”
- Sarah Glidden, Rolling Blackouts: Dispatchees From Turkey, Syria, and Iraq (Drawn & Quarterly, 2017). “In the midst of her cultural wanderings . . . Glidden pieces together something that newspaper reporters often miss . . . By talking to people and living their lives, she unearths very real people and their real stories.”
How well are the various participants in the conversations depicted in the paintings below listening? (Krasner's painting doesn't count.)
- Lee Krasner, Listen (1957)
- René Magritte, The Art of Conversation (1950)
- Giorgio de Chirico, Conversation (1927)
- Henri Matisse, Conversation under the Olive Trees (1921)
- Edgar Degas, The Conversation (1899)
- Mary Cassatt, The Conversation (1896)
- Pierre-Auguste Renoir, The Conversation (1895)
- Edvard Munch, Eye in Eye (1894)
- Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Conversation (1879)
- Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Conversation in a Rose Garden (1876)
- Vasily Perov, The Conversation at the Round Table (1866)
- Rembrandt van Rijn, Self-Portrait, Leaning Forward, Listening (1628)
Film and Stage
- My Dinner With Andre: an extended conversation between two intellectual film artists, one of whom had dropped out of art and society
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
The piano trio form tends to give the impression of an extended conversation among three animated and interested parties, each listening intently to the others. This is especially true of the trios by the French Romantic composers, and Scubert.
- Schubert, Piano Trio No. 1 in B flat major, 898, Op. 99 (1827)
- Schubert, Piano Trio No. 2 in E flat major, 929, Op. 100 (1827)
- Mendelssohn, Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, 49 (1839)
- Fesca: Piano Trio No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 12 (1843)
- Fesca: Piano Trio No. 5 in B Minor, Op. 46 (1845)
- Mendelssohn, Piano Trio No. 2 in C minor, 66 (1845)
- Berwald, Piano Trio No. 2 in F Minor (1851)
- Saint-Saëns, Piano Trio No. 1 in F major, 18 (1863)
- Debussy, Piano Trio in G major, L. 5 (1880)
- Chausson, Piano Trioin G minor, 3 (1881)
- Saint-Saëns, Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor, 92 (1892)
- Taneyev, Piano Trio in D major, Op. 22 (1908): careful listening, producing a creative tension
- Ravel, Piano Trioin A minor (1914)
- Faurè, Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 120 (1923)
- Samuel Adler, String Quartet No. 8: I. very slowly; II. Fast and with humor; III. Slowly and very expressively; IV. Fast and with great expression.
- Bliss, Discourse for Orchestra, F113 (1965)
- Weinberg, String Quartet No. 2, Op. 3 (1940)
- Labor, Piano Quintet in E minor, Op. 3
- Labor, Piano Quartet in C major, Op. 6
- Labor, Piano Quintet, Op. 11 (1900)
- Dohnányi, Sting Quartet No. 2 in D flat major, Op. 15 (listening and resolving conflicts)
- Kenny Barron and Dave Holland, “The Art of Conversation”
- Han Bennink, Michael Moore and Ernst Reijseger, “Clusone 3”
- Zentralquartett (Conrad Bauer, et. al.), “PLIE”
- Anthony Braxton and Brett Larner, “11 Compositions (Duo) 1995”
- Pauline Oliveros, Stuart Dempster and Panaiotis, “Deep Listening”
- David Friesen and Circle 3 Trio, “Interaction”: “Freedom comes from discipline and this freedom gives us the ability to take our eyes off ourselves, to listen and respond creatively to what we hear . . . receiving music that goes beyond the reason of intellectuality and passes understanding . . . making split second decisions and yielding to others what is best for the moment . . . a technical balancing act, an interaction and agreement of musical ideas shared.” [David Friesen, July 30, 2019, from the album notes]
Now I will do nothing but listen,
To accrue what I hear into this song, to let sounds contribute toward it.
I hear bravuras of birds, bustle of growing wheat, gossip of flames, clack of sticks cooking my meals,
I hear the sound I love, the sound of the human voice,
I hear all sounds running together, combined, fused or following,
Sounds of the city and sounds out of the city, sounds of the day and night,
Talkative young ones to those that like them, the loud laugh of work-people at their meals,
The angry base of disjointed friendship, the faint tones of the sick,
The judge with hands tight to the desk, his pallid lips pronouncing a death-sentence,
The heave'e'yo of stevedores unlading ships by the wharves, the refrain of the anchor-lifters,
The ring of alarm-bells, the cry of fire, the whirr of swift-streaking engines and hose-carts with premonitory tinkles and color'd lights,
The steam-whistle, the solid roll of the train of approaching cars,
The slow march play'd at the head of the association marching two and two,
(They go to guard some corpse, the flag-tops are draped with black muslin.)
I hear the violoncello, ('tis the young man's heart's complaint,)
I hear the key'd cornet, it glides quickly in through my ears,
It shakes mad-sweet pangs through my belly and breast.
I hear the chorus, it is a grand opera,
Ah this indeed is music--this suits me.
A tenor large and fresh as the creation fills me,
The orbic flex of his mouth is pouring and filling me full.
I hear the train'd soprano (what work with hers is this?)
The orchestra whirls me wider than Uranus flies,
It wrenches such ardors from me I did not know I possess'd them,
It sails me, I dab with bare feet, they are lick'd by the indolent waves,
I am cut by bitter and angry hail, I lose my breath,
Steep'd amid honey'd morphine, my windpipe throttled in fakes of death,
At length let up again to feel the puzzle of puzzles,
And that we call Being.
- James Wood, Upstate: A Novel (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2018): “The all-important conversation that the father envisions never materializes, but over the course of a week these three will gather repeatedly to walk, talk, eat and drive about, while we, the readers, are privy to their brooding thoughts about themselves, one another, and whether or not life has meaning. The brooding is where the action is.”
- Sally Rooney, Normal People: A Novel (Hogarth, 2019): “This novel tracks Marianne and Connell across four years. They are both gifted students and wind up at Trinity College in Dublin. They are never quite boyfriend and girlfriend in the conventional sense. They merely break each other’s hearts over and over again.”