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Listening and looking: The keys to meaningful choral music and life

Welcome! My name is Austen and thanks for stopping by! Glad you are along for the journey in Everyday Resonance as we explore life, music, and faith.

One of the things I love about choral music is how it brings people together, builds community, and helps us communicate our deepest emotions. I'm always on the lookout for concerts to attend and sometimes I eagerly await performances for weeks. In October 2016, I was thrilled to watch a concert streamed online involving Chanticleer and Cantus, two of America's foremost professional men’s choirs. One of the pieces they performed was an arrangement of We Shall Walk Through the Valley in Peace:

Other than the sheer brilliance of the performance on many levels, a few things struck me. First, their eye contact with each other was constant. Because two totally different ensembles combined for this piece, eye contact was a logistical necessity. Especially without a conductor, the singers had to look at each other in order to breathe at the same time and to know when to start and stop phrases. On a deeper level, looking at someone is a fundamental way of acknowledging someone’s core humanity. By non-verbally communicating “I see you”, we acknowledge the inherent value in the other person. By looking up, the audience was invited into the performance.

Since we live in such a visual culture, looking is sometimes a prerequisite to being able to hear. Rather than looking at a printed score (sheet music) and having divided attention between the senses of sight and listening, attention shifts more towards listening. Listening ensures a unified performance and an agreement on intonation and expression. On a deeper level, listening to someone else is another fundamental way of acknowledging someone’s core humanity. I can't help but wonder if the audience was able to listen deeply to the performance because the singers were listening at such a deep level.

Being the world renowned ensembles they are, Cantus or Chanticleer could have easily tried to upstage each other. Instead they worked together for the music and the audience. Not only was the performance professional on a musical level, but it showed us what is possible if we listen and work together. May this performance inspire us to listen and look at one another even more deeply in our everyday lives.

As an audience member, what do you look for or listen for in concerts? It can be for any kind of music. Comment below!

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