music happens all around you. are you listening?

Last week, my generous husband, Bam treated me to one of those ‘chair massages’ at Whole Foods while he went off and shopped for us. While I was in the chair getting my chakras reopened by Ivan the massage dude, I noticed the cash registers, ding, ding, dingitty ding; beep, beepitty beep beep; the sound of the shopping carts rolling on the floor; the almost audible rock music that WF plays for their hipster shoppers; snippets of conversation: “I’m gonna be late” … a teenager “Mom, can I sleep at Sheils’s tonight?”… a child crying “Waaaahhhhhhhh”.

noise is the symphony of our lives.

Stop right now. Listen. What do you hear? I hear the sound of this Mac keyboard as I type. When my right thumb hits the spacebar it is kind of squeaky. Doesn’t happen when my left thumb hits. Just the right thumb. It’s like… tap tap tap squeak. It makes me giggle. But what else? I hear the fridge humming in the background. Now focus on outside. I can hear birds. A high pitched bird call. Now a jet is passing over. It’s music. All of it.

When I was at Berklee College of Music years ago, my roommates and I used to play a game with car alarms. It was the era when car alarms went off randomly at all hours of the day and night and they would shrill their warning sound for 5 or 10 minutes and then stop. So when the alarms woke us up at 3 in the morning, rather than get mad, we came up with a musical challenge. First we started to sing harmonies with the noise. Then when that was too easy, we tried to sing one note away from the pitch of the alarm. Creating a DISSONANT note to see if we could do it and hold our pitch against the deafening siren. After a while, we got good at that too and it just became funny.

it spawned many philosophical discussions on what we accept as ‘sounding good.’

It has changed over the years. Allegedly, and I’m simply recalling this from memory and do not have ‘proof’ for you scientific types, the first musical sounds humans made would have been a minor third. This eventually branched into the well known Gregorian Chants. Very minor. Very beautiful. Very trance like. (If anyone is wondering, Gregorian Chants are based on the Dorian Mode.) So here’s the fascinating part. A MAJOR third, which is now used in all popular music was considered DISSONANT. It was painful to the ear. Major OUCH.

It wasn’t that long ago that rock music in general was considered horribly dissonant. There have been constant shifts in what has become acceptable in Western music. Perhaps, music reflects the level of dissonance we have in our lives? When you hear ‘old time rock n roll’ from the 50’s it sounds so simple and naive. Then compare that to the bluesy sounds of the early Stones or the early Beatles that happened in the 60’s when political unrest was stirring. The chord structures and melodic notes changed. Even as recent as 2005, the Smashing Pumpkins had a hit with “1979” (one of my fave tunes of theirs) which uses a major 7th in a HUGE way. A decade earlier, this would not have ‘sounded good’ to our ears.

Lyle Mays, keyboard player for Pat Metheny once said to me, “It ain’t the notes you play that count. It’s the notes you DON’T play that count. THAT is what makes the groove.” Wise words. Silence is part of the noise. It is the silence in between the noise that gives the music its rhythm. Its cadence. Its meaning.

as a speaker, a pause gives your words more weight. the p-a-u-s-e draws the audience IN to what you are saying. it is the silence in between the notes you are playing.

One person’s noise is another person’s music. Open your ears up to the sounds, noises, machine bleeps, bird calls, wind rustles around you. In a restaurant, listen for the sound of ice clinking in a glass, silverware on plates, shoes walking on the floor. It’s all music. Enjoy your symphony.

Developing your listening skills makes you a better communicator. If you’re a better communicator you can express what you need and want more skillfully. If you can express yourself more skillfully, you will be happier.

breathe+listen=consciously hearing

pause+increase your awareness=a happier you

breathe+listen+pause+increase your awareness=an engaging speaker

noise+a listener=art

Harmonize with your vacuum cleaner. Hum with your washing machine. Add to the vibrations of the universe (which supposedly vibrates in the key of C#!?) with your own noise and make it a beautiful one.

And one of my favorite zen riddles: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

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