So much of our intake of music is fleeting and transient. The muzak of the shopping mall. The radio playing in the corner of the workplace. The pub soundtrack drowned by our own banter and laughter. Occasionally, in these situations, we become vaguely aware of it’s presence. We may even declare to those we are sharing a drink with that we love this tune, but then our attention quickly returns to our chatter.
Music becomes the person we sit next to and ignore on the tube. Yet, any song however unknown, is a song waiting for hospitality. Waiting for the chance to be known to you.
Even in our homes, where we can choose the music we want to listen to, it often finds itself unnoticed next to us. Friends visit, drinks are poured, music is chosen, the conversation flows, and the song is drowned. Background music from your collection is an old friend waiting to be welcomed again into your midst.
To relegate music in these ways is to silence a voice that has a right to be heard, to ignore the stranger and to make our life poorer.
‘Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become soul-friends’
(Community of Spiritual Formation)
To offer music hospitality is to intentionally sit and listen. To be generous with our time and pay attention at the expense of all the other competing voices and noises in our world. It is to place music firmly in the foreground.
‘Spiritual listening is at the heart of all relationships. It is what we experience when we become a quiet, safe container into which the speaker is able to express his or her most genuine voice. There is a communion of souls.’
(Kay Lindahl, https://www.globallisteningcentre.org/spiritual-listening/)
I don’t believe any artist writes or plays for their music to lurk in shadows, to be the ignored traveller on public transport. A true piece of art is birthed from deep within the soul of the artist and is offered to the world in the hope that there will be connection. That connection has no chance of being made if we keep the song in the background. If we become a safe container into which the music can express its most genuine voice the connection is possible.
When this connection is made, we allow the artist to speak into the space we create. With no other distractions we can immerse ourselves in the whole song. As we listen our brain will work in so many different ways to interpret rhythms, tunes and meaning of lyrics as well as interpreting the emotion of the piece. That moment when nothing else matters, when our eyes close, feet tap and our breathing falls into the rhythm of the song we have a true connection. We have a communion of souls. Our soul with the soul of the music and the artists and creator of the piece.
This is the way music is meant to communicate. This is the way music is meant to be listened to. Allowing music to speak directly to us, by not having to fight for attention, ensures that the true voice of the music is heard.
Intentionally listening to a fresh piece of music is to listen with the anticipation and expectation that we experience at the start of a new relationship. When we hear a new song that touches us deep down, we can experience the same excitement and thrill as at the beginning of a new love affair. A relationship with limitless possibilities, in which there is a deep desire to know all we can and, simply, to be known. It is to offer a generous welcome to the unknown troubadour and begin to walk an unknown path.
It obviously takes more than one listen to become soul-friends. Revisiting the exercise of truly listening will take us into a deeper and richer relationship. It will open up many different avenues and there is no real knowing where it will lead. This is true for all spiritual journeys.
There is a spirituality in listening to music, even to so-called secular music. Definitions for spirituality abound but at the heart of many definition is the idea that spirituality is concerned with more than the physical and material things of this life and focusses on the soul, the spirit of a human.
‘Hands’ was the second single from The Raconteur’s debut album Broken Boy Soldiers. Released in the summer of 2006 it reached number 29 in the UK singles chart. (Listen to the song here… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=85rzVxd6TrI)
It is a love song, a song about a relationship. As I listen I hear a song about knowing and being known. A song about the deep connection between two people. A song that is concerned with the spirituality, rather than the physicality, of love.
Help me get in touch with what I feel…
Help me find the good that’s inside me…
When you listen there’s a hope and I know I’m being heard
When you smile at me and I know, and we don’t have to speak a word
When you’re with me there’s a light and I can see my way
When you speak to me it’s a song and I know what to say
Offering spiritual hospitality to a song can form the sort of connection that helps us get in touch with what we feel, help us find the good inside.
To welcome and entertain a song is to expect that the experience will lift us above the everyday, stretch us beyond our own limits and reshape us. This is what makes listening a spiritual experience. This is why offering generous hospitality to music deepens our connection with songs and why our lives are so much poorer if we only ever leave music in the background.