The Trouble With Easy Listening

Steve Almond writes about the devaluation of the music listening experience here.

“See, back when I was a kid in the ’70s, the way I listened to music was pretty simple. I put an LP on the turntable, dropped the needle, then sat on the living room rug and listened to every single note. If I liked the record a lot, I would listen to it two or three times in a row, usually with the album cover on my lap, so I could study the lyrics and artwork.

In other words, I considered listening to an album an activity in and of itself. It was not something I did while working on homework, let alone while checking e-mail or thumbing out text messages.”

This is something I’ve been musing about for a while myself.  Sometimes when I’m giving a lecture to a new class I’ll ask the students to consider the last time they listened to an album all the way through while all their attention was focused purely on the music.  While I’m frequently surprised by how many students actually have (or claim to have) spent time listening to music and doing nothing else, it’s typically only a handful of the entire class.  It’s something that I’ve noticed that I do less and less these days too.

Part of the issue for me is that with the ease of MP3s I tend to put my music on shuffle and not actively go after a particular album or even artist.  Shuffle features like iTune’s “Genius” and web site’s like Pandora have make for interesting mixes of music and often expose me to music I would not necessarily go out of my way to listen to, but the negative side of this listening experience is that I tend to not really absorb a particular album through multiple listenings the way I used to.

When was the last time you sat down and did nothing else but listen to music?  What was it?  What medium was the music played back on (LP, CD, MP3, etc.)?

Two days ago I sat down and listened to a mix of solo trombone music that I’ll be performing next week.  They were MP3s and included Sonata (vox Gabrieli) by Stjepan Sulek, Cavatine by Camille Saint-Saens, and Lars-Erk Larsson’s Concertino for trombone and string orchestra.  The performers were Christian Lindberg, Joseph Alessi, and Ralph Sauer.

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