Monday, June 29, 2020

Musical Respite, a response to Claudia Hammond’s book.

I was asked to contribute to a “Continuous Professional Development” session for college staff based on and inspired by the book “The Art of Rest; How to Find Respite in the Modern Age” by Claudia Hammond. This included being asked to respond to her chapter on listening to music for rest (I can’t provide the chapter here for copyright reasons so feel free to buy it or borrow it from your library if you’re keen) and also providing a video. See below for both.

I decided to do a video on how hugely beneficial I believe learning to play an instrument is (any instrument, it could be your voice for instance) and some tips on how staff could use the summer holidays to get started on learning for fun using free online tutorials. Of course, they could hire a tutor or join a course if they got “serious” about it! 

I don’t actually really find music “restful” as such (see my bit about being an “active listener”) and find playing guitar for instance very tiring due to the state of relaxed-focus you need to maintain, and can even be very exhausting in the case of a gig/performance for instance, but it is the ultimate in cathartic, expression-making, get-it-out-of-your-system, emotion-busting of experiences and I recommend it!
Anyway, watch/read on if any of this interests you and if you’ve read the book, let me know where you agree or otherwise with me and the author.

My response to the chapter on Listening to Music in “The Art of Rest” by Claudia Hammond.

In general, the author may be right in thinking that it may often be preferable on many occasions to listen to less complex, slower music when you're "in a bad mood' and you want to reduce the level of arousal. However, I think that sometimes in for instance times of extreme stress, worry or even anger, it can be very useful and very cathartic to listen to loud, fast, complex music to help deal with those stresses and exorcise them, to "get them out of your system" as it were. To listen to more "soothing music" at such times might be the musical equivalent of "ignoring your problems" rather than working through them. 

I agree that people should choose their own music rather than listen to a particular genre (e.g. classical) as I think people know what their own 'go to' tunes or genres are that may help them with relaxation or dealing with different emotions. Some people will really dislike certain genres for a whole number of experiential, cultural or associative reasons,  be they Jazz, Metal, Hip Hop, or classical and I'm reminded for example that Frank Skinner one said that "all classical music makes me think of death"!

I personally would not choose to fall asleep to music, as I regard myself as an 'active listener' in that I want to hear every nuance of each instrument and the way that every rhythm and texture interplay, though I may listen to or play music before sleep. When I listen to music I am looking for a totally immersive experience in which I want to be completely overwhelmed by it. In this way, listening to music is "relaxing" in the same way that being lost in a really great book can be, the process can even be quite tiring due to the active nature of it, consoling, empathetic and therefore a cathartic experience which can help soothe your worries or stresses of the day, but you are still fully engaged with it rather than letting it "flow over you" in a more passive way. However I appreciate some people might prefer the more passive approach.

In terms of the need for silence in a noisy world, anyone who practices mindfulness probably realises that silence is not really something that can be achieved for most of us, but we can enjoy and take in the quieter sounds of say, a ticking clock (which I can't stand but I know some find comforting) or for instance the gurgling or clicking of heating systems. I am lucky enough to be surrounded at night by the sounds of owls, of fish and other animals moving the canal water, the sounds of wind be it a breeze or strong gusts, and sometimes rain gently tapping or even hammering on the roof. These are sounds I'm delighted to enjoy as I fall asleep, imaging the "other worlds" of nocturnal life going on out there, sounds that conjure with the imagination and perhaps lead you peacefully into a dream world.