"Encounters With Music Through Listener Actions"


This book is about music and the actions listeners take to enhance encounters with music. It was written with a key objective, to improve the skills of listeners for a lifetime of listening. For most people, encounters with music rest on a foundation of listening—a foundation that can be improved through a set of thinking skills tied to listening. Listener actions, as I call the skills, are actions that listeners take while listening, in preparation for listening, or as follow-up to listening.

Encounters with music rest firmly on a strong foundation of listening and relistening. Have you ever listened to something once, and determined then that you would prefer not to listen to that music again? In music there are few people who could claim to get all that is to be heard in a symphony or sonata, or any music for that matter, with only one encounter with the music. Unfamiliar works may even bewilder listeners. As the works receive more performances and begin to hold the attention of more listeners, the qualities come forth. When Igor Stravinsky's ballet The Rite of Spring premiered in Paris it caused a riotous reaction from the audience. When Giuseppe Verdi's opera La traviata premiered in Venice the critics called it a fiasco. Verdi said: "Traviata, a fiasco? Time will tell." Over time, now more than 150 years, La traviata has proven its lasting power and greatness, and The Rite of Spring is now considered one of the greatest musical works of the twentieth century—each work is a "classic."

The conditions for understanding the musical repertoire selected for this book will arise most effectively by focused listening and relistening. One time through, like a premiere, may even get negative criticism, but by the third or fourth time hopefully even the most critical listener will begin to take pleasure in the music, a sure sign of comprehension. With music, at each listening something new within the music comes to our attention, and we are motivated to listen again and to seek additional musical experiences. There are no limits to the number and the kinds of musical works a person can think about through listener actions, and have feelings about as a result of listener actions.

Through the course of study to follow, readers will become soundscape tourists by virtually visiting places of music making, concert halls, theatres and churches from around the world. All this will be possible through the technology of sound recording and playback, and through some excellent online listening resources. It is easy today to get a first-hand acquaintance with large amounts of great music through recordings of incredible fidelity. Each year as technology improves the recording and playback of music, it enables performances from music venues around the world to be captured, preserved and distributed to almost anywhere in the world, better than ever before. I for one treasure many of those recordings, and I continue to seek more. I realize however that listening to the very best recording possible cannot duplicate the experience of a live musical performance. To simulate the performance experience and encourage concert attendance, all but the last chapter ends with a chapter concert. The nine chapter concerts are presented as a series of musical events that parallel the development of the listener actions. The early chapter concerts utilize basic listener actions—to identify, to compare, to contrast, to remember, to extract, to find, to discover, to discuss—while later chapter concerts utilize higher-order listener actions by analysis and synthesis. The last chapter, "Evaluation" has no chapter concert. Readers will have a lifetime to discover and evaluate an incredible diversity of music through both live and recorded performances.

The skills approach of this book foregoes the traditional historical approach, the chronological organization of most music appreciation textbooks. Even so, music history has a very important place in the pages to follow. The organization of the book, from chapter topics to chapter concerts, concerns itself with reaching the primary goal—improving the skills of listeners for a lifetime of listening. That goal is tied to a fundamental belief that good listening skills provide pathways to all encounters with music—encounters at live concerts, in discussions after concerts, during private listening, in the library or on the web while seeking additional information about composers, performers, musical instruments, musical elements or music's rich history.


Throughout the project to fine-tune the ideas presented in this book, I received sound advice from numerous people, especially friends and colleagues at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, including Daniel Burdick, Patrick Jones, Jean Snyder, Peter van den Honert, Erik Mann, Kristine Denton and David Denton. Also to three individuals, Clifford Cox, John Fleming and Ronald Stitt, I owe much gratitude for their thoughtful suggestions, especially in the early stages of this project. A special tribute goes also to Paul Martin, a former colleague now deceased, who shared many musical thoughts with me across a table with two cups of coffee and a crossword puzzle, a puzzle that he would always push aside for good conversation. He epitomized for me the perfect colleague, for he would have encouraged me to write while engaging me in debate to make this a better book for all readers.

My encounters with many other people, either in person or through their writings, have also made this book possible. Without models of excellence, and some opposites, I would not have considered undertaking the challenge of writing a book—another book among many that attempts to foster an appreciation of music. I also acknowledge Edinboro University for a single semester sabbatical, and an earlier opportunity given to me by Robert C. Weber and Frank G. Pogue to take a couple of years away from the classroom to study assessment, retention, and especially teaching in the general education curriculum. For the cover photograph and a dedication to capturing the images of music at Edinboro, I give special thanks to Kathy Pernisek. I offer a special thank you also to the kind folks at Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company for their encouragement and support in completing a project that at times reached lengthy fermatas. Finally, I give thanks to my family, especially my wife. Her musical expertise and insightful suggestions, plus her patience and encouragement truly guided me through this project.

Tim Cordell: Formatted for this responsive website on 21 March 2014.