Friday, February 22, 2013

On Creativity: Listening on the Brain

Apparently, I’ve had listening on the brain.

Evelyn Glennie’s TED talk, “How to Truly Listen,” is continuing my fascination with sound and how we experience it.

Her talk really resonates (there are so many puns in describing sound and understanding...I find that interesting!) with me. She talks about the differences between being a technician (focused only on technique and correctness) and being a musician (interpreting the music as a whole, including everything not written on the page). She also brings her ideas around to the importance of empathy (another pet cause of mine). Fascinatingly, she’s a mostly-deaf percussionist--she expands the definition of “listening” to include our entire bodily perception (not just ears, which is such a limited sense). It’s a valuable reminder that we cannot make assumptions about the abilities or experiences of others.

I also love this part of this video (at 5:38 or so), where she is discussing that technician vs. musician idea. She says, “We have to listen to ourselves, first of all. If I play, for example, holding the stick where literally I do not let go of the stick, I’ll experience quite a lot of shock coming up through the arm, and I feel really quite (believe it or not) detached from the instrument and from the stick....By holding it [the stick] tightly, you feel, strangely, more detached. If I just simply let go and allow my hand, my arm to be more of a support system, suddenly, I have more dynamic with less effort.....I feel at last one with the stick and one with drum, and I’m doing far, far less.”

There’s something important for us, as artists, here. Glennie is talking about a rigid, controlled approach versus a relaxed, less-scripted, less-guarded approach. She’s so right. Somedays, when I’m writing, I can feel myself overworking or strangling my words; those lines never turn out right. On the other hand, if I can let my writing be what it wants to be, and nurture that, it turns out much stronger.

I’m not advocating for laziness or sloppiness. Instead, it’s crucial to be attentive to our ideas and the moves our brains make, and work toward our best versions of our own work. I’ve always felt that this is my job as a teacher--to help students hear where their voices are at their best, and to write toward this strength.

Glennie’s talk reminds us to create with all that we have, to create art by more fully inhabiting the self.

P.S. Emily Rapp's post on RoleReboot, "What Not to Say to a Grieving Parent," also reminds us how important it is to listen and be present.


  1. When I listen to the little poet guy in my brain, he says, "Be a technician." I embrace it.

  2. Excellent post, Hannah. I especially like what you say about hearing your strength and writing toward that. I'm also intrigued with the concept of creating empathy through writing, as well as where to let silences fall, something the best musicians have great feeling for.

  3. Thanks for sharing. I have taken workshops on listening. I was amazed how most of us only hear and not listen, and so it really requires practice. I am going to listen to the entire talk. I think we have become lazy listeners because of visual media..listening to radio is a very good practice. Wishing you a great weekend!

  4. As a choral singer, this makes so much sense to me. At rehearsal, our music director often asks us to hold chord tones and listen to each, for tuning. It is amazing how quickly we find and hold the pure pitches when we slow down and listen.

  5. Nurturing nature, I like that! Technique is a healthy word, but one must always remember that passion for expression will create technique, but technique will never create passion for expression. I'll check the video out, but in the meantime, in the synchronicities department, I came across a fascinating article in terms of making me rethink or at least refine my poetics, about how language limits rather than helps communication, because thoughts are felt not heard, and humans have lost by the sophistication of their language skills a lot of the telepathic ability that other animals use to communicate.

    You do not actually communicate with words

    Have a slow down to listen weekend!

  6. I always try to listen to my brain, but it's often overruled by the heart :)

  7. I love everyone's comments here---so inspiring. Bill-that article IS interesting. If I could have one superpower, it would be to communicate with animals.

    Thank you for commenting and reading, everyone!


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