Listening is a skill that must be forever honed.  We take it for granted and in this day and age of SO many distractions, we can find that the world around us makes it impossible to really focus and actually listen.  A presence of mind and state of focused attention is not something that we might call upon readily if we don’t take the time to actually ‘teach’ ourselves to listen. 

“Listen to your body; Listen to me; Listen to the instructions…..”  and on and on.  It’s something we hear readily- but do we really actually listen?

Full disclosure- I work on this every day.  Every morning, I work to put myself in a quiet state, focus on my breath and read-Scripture, Rumi, Maxwell, Allen, Gibran- ye,s they are all on my desk, waiting for me, long before the sun comes up – and I work very hard to ‘listen’ to the words shared by the various authors.  It’s not easy- sometimes I find myself repeating phrases out loud so that I can hear myself and try to listen that way.  It’s hard- really hard.

Have I mastered it?  I would like to say yes- but I know that it is constantly a work in progress. So for now- I will humbly say- no, I have not. However, I do give myself credit for being disciplined enough to know that I have to do it to be a good steward of the life I have been gifted.  I lead a very distracted life. I recognize that and work on this skill constantly.

I do believe that it starts from deep within- and we start there.  To actually be still enough to ‘listen’ to ourselves, our breath.  When I get to the place where the morning silence is actually very “loud” around me, I feel ‘present’.  I would say that the next great place I take my ‘listening’ skills with me is on my morning hikes.  That is my blissful place.  As my book states- “The Forest is My Happy Place”.  Truly, I listen, watch, stay present enough to pay attention to the rocks, leaves, wind, birds, sky….so much.

So why bring this up today?  I am getting ready to populate the Simple Gift Series website page  ‘LISTENING and ART’. This part of my teaching goes back to my days at Oberlin Conservatory and French Art Song class with Helen Hodam.  She would start each class with a piece of music on the record player and a piece of art in front of us-  It might be a lovely song by Debussy with poetry by Beaudelaire accompanied by a painting by Monet.  She then proceeded to tell us the story behind the music, the painting, the artists, the composers, the poets-  the places they went to, the conversations and letters they wrote.  It all become so alive.  I loved that class.  The inspired connection between imaginations, humans and the world around us.

Fast forward 1994 when I founded the Conservatory.  The experience from Oberlin Conservatory became a part of the learning experience there and fast became every child’s favorite class.  Here is how it works and how I believe it has been a critical part of how we might teach our children and ourselves to ‘listen’. 

Imagine being three years old and walking into a darkened room where you hear Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ playing over the speakers.  You are asked to lie down on the ground and just ‘listen’.  Truly immerse yourself in the sounds that are coming over you.  The particular music we include in the curriculum is what is known as ‘Programmatic Music’.  Meaning that the composer had a specific extra musical intention behind the composition- story, legend, visuals, characters and the subsequent emotional response that ensues.  That is important to know. In the quest of not only exposing the children to great classical music and listening to it in a quiet space, we then ask them to ‘Draw What You Hear’.  What?  Yes, take what was truly manifested in their imaginations while listening and draw it on paper with crayons, pencils, markers.  We then ask them to share ‘what they heard’ with the rest of the class.  

Well- after all the years of teaching this class- I can tell you that the children are more often than not, spot on with the composer’s intentions of the ‘program’.  Whether “Ride of the Valklyries” or “Rodeo” or “The Four Seasons”  the children might draw flying dragons, horses galloping or a lovely forest- pretty darn close to what Wagner, Copland and Vivaldi had in mind.

What have I learned from this experience?  I have learned that as children, we do know how to listen and even more importantly, listen to our imaginations- that sixth sense.  Somewhere along the way- the distractions take over.  They become very loud- and we stop listening- to ourselves, our imaginations, our wishes, dreams, creativity- our very essence.  Think about it….it happens to all of us.  Why?  How?  Something to think about

So why not take the time now, for yourself, for your child to nurture that skill of actually  listening- listen- shhhh.  Then ‘draw what you hear’.  Start with Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’.

You will surprise yourself.