Musicking While Old - 5. Old Listeners - Joseph Straus
Episode 1628th April 2022 • SMT-Pod • Society for Music Theory
00:00:00 00:48:45

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In the final episode of Joe Straus's series on old age and music, Joe discusses what it means to listen to music while old and the ways that having an old body shapes the way we listen. 

This episode was produced by Katrina Roush and Megan Lyons.

SMT-Pod Theme music by Zhangcheng Lu; Closing music "hnna" by David Voss. "Night Thoughts" by Aaron Copland was performed by Han Chen. For supplementary materials on this episode and more information on our authors and composers, check out our website: https://smt-pod.org/episodes/season01/.

Transcripts

Megan Lyons:

Before you hear the final episode of season 1 of SMT-Pod, we invite you to submit a proposal for Season 2. Next week, on May 5, check out our website smt-pod.org to see all the details on our next season.

SMT:

[SMT-Pod Theme music playing]

SMT:

Welcome to SMT-Pod, the premiere audio publication of the Society for Music Theory.

Music:

[Copland's "Night Thoughts" playing]

Joe:

Welcome to the fifth and final episode of my podcast, Musicking While Old. When I say “musicking” I mean to include all forms of making music and participating in music. In previous episodes, we talked about what it’s like to compose music as an old person or to perform music as an old person. Today, we will talk about listening to music as an old person. Listening is something you do with and through your body. The way you listen is shaped by the nature of your body, and your experience of your own body. Today we will talk about listening to music while old, the ways that having an old body shapes the way we listen while old.

Joe:

Listening is a basic musical activity, a fundamental way of experiencing music. Listening doesn’t mean just listening to a recording through headphones or sitting quietly in a concert hall. Composing and performing involve listening—they are manifestations of listening. So is writing about music—it’s a form of reified close listening. Listening to music is at the core of all forms of music making

Joe:

In the articles and books I have written about disability and music, I have talked about deaf hearing, blind hearing, autistic hearing, and mobility-impaired hearing, to explore how those extraordinary embodiments inflect musical experience. In this episode, and with the help of some of my old friends, I will develop an idea of old hearing, or of hearing oldly: the ways old people listen to music and make sense of music. I will try to show that hearing oldly is a distinctive and valuable way of hearing music.

Joe:

When people talk about music and old age, the approach is usually diagnostic or therapeutic. From a diagnostic point of view, the people in the white coats—the gerontologists—try to pin down what is wrong with you, what it is about being old that prevents you from hearing music in the normal way you did when you were younger. From the therapeutic point of view, the people in the white coats—the music therapists—want to use music to make your old life less bad.

Joe:

How bad is it? Well, to hear the experts tell the story, old age is pretty bad: a series of deficits, a tale of woe. I am referring to empirical studies of hearing or producing music in old age, quantitative measures of decline from the desirable norm of youth. Some of this literature is music-specific (old people are shown to be relatively bad at specific musical tasks). Some of it is more generally about cognition (old people don’t think as quickly or as well) or physical abilities, including hearing (old people often have hearing loss). The biomedical story of old age, the gerontological story of old age, is the story of decline.

Joe:

As for music as therapy, it can be used to ameliorate some of the challenging conditions associated with old age, including memory loss and social isolation. Music therapy can make old age less bad, but it has nothing to do with the way old people hear music or experience music or make music. I’m not so much interested in diagnosis—what’s wrong with you—or therapy—what’s good for you. I’m more interested in the qualitative experience of musicking in old age, of musicking while old. Now we’re going to talk about listening to music while old, of listening and hearing oldly.

Music:

[Copland's "Night Thoughts" playing]

Joe:

I’m going to lay out some of the attributes of old hearing as I experience them personally. I’ll talk about my own ways of hearing oldly. Then I’ll do some field research, that is, I’ll ask a bunch of my fellow old music theorists to talk about their ways of hearing oldly and of musicking while old. I hope to create an intimate and nuanced portrait of a vital and valuable way of being musical, unrestricted by the quantitative measures of medical and cognitive studies. It will also be a varied portrait, because not all old people, or even old music theorists, listen the same way.

Joe:

Before we get started, I have to provide three disclaimers. First, I disclaim essentialism: you do not have to be old to hear oldly and not all old people hear this way. Second, I disclaim the idea of compensation: there is no divine balance in the world, and the pleasures and virtues of hearing oldly do not come as a divine gift to compensate for physical frailty or deficiency. Third, I disclaim the romantic fantasy of the transcendent gift. There is nothing ineffable or preternatural about old hearing. Rather, old hearing is grounded in the concrete particularities, the materiality of the old body, a different and distinctive type of listening that comes from the long accumulation of musical experience and of life experience.

Joe:

My personal sense of old hearing involves four characteristics: old hearing is resonant, it is deep, it is slow, and it is multi-sensory. When I say old hearing is resonant, I mean it is richly intertextual, replete with associations with other pieces, reverberating with other pieces. When I hear a new piece, I hear it in relation to a considerable knowledge of other pieces, going back over sixty years. And each new piece I hear adds resonance to my hearing of pieces I already know. Each piece I hear resounds with echoes of other pieces in a vast and growing network.

Joe:

Old hearing is not only resonant, it is also deep. I think most people have special feelings about music they have known a long time. So while I listen to plenty of new music, and music that is new to me, I have to admit that I’ve become more of a deep diver than a snorkeler in my musical tastes. My listening has also become deeper in a music-theoretical sense—I hear more deeply into musical structure, whatever that contested word means now.

Joe:

Old hearing is resonant and deep and also slow. Most things slow down in old age, except perhaps for the passage of time. If musical listening were a competitive race, being slow would be bad. But for aesthetic experience, slow is good. Slow hearing offers an opportunity to savor and ruminate. That old people process music more slowly and play music more slowly are empirical facts, usually attributed to cognitive and physical decline. But I think slowness is more closely related to resonance and depth—it takes longer to hear things richly and deeply, and the aesthetic pleasure is correspondingly increased.

Joe:

Old hearing is resonant, deep, slow, and also multi-sensory. Many old people experience hearing loss, but even for people who maintain quote “normal” hearing ability, old hearing may take on some of the attributes of what I have elsewhere called “deaf hearing,” that is, the ways that deaf people make sense of and respond to music. Like deaf hearing, old hearing is increasingly polymorphous. Old hearing is visual hearing—you see the score and you see music being made, including by yourself. Old hearing is haptic hearing—you feel the music with your whole body, not just with your ears. Old hearing is kinesthetic hearing—you move to the music, entrain to it. Old hearing involves imaginative recreation—especially if you have hearing loss, you learn to fill in the cognitive gaps, something that gets easier with lots and lots of musical experience.

Joe:

To flesh out my sense of old hearing, I talked to a bunch of my fellow old theorists. Some of what they said confirmed my own ideas about old hearing as deep, resonant, slow, and multi-sensory. But they offered many additional dimensions to the picture.

Music:

[bumper music playing]

Joe:

Many of the people I talked to emphasized listening for pure pleasure, unencumbered by professional goals. Pat McCreless, who recently retired from Yale, calls it “carefree listening,” which he finds liberating.

Pat McCreless:

I think I listen in a more carefree way. In terms of you know, teaching theory, and doing analysis in a really serious way, and teaching it, and writing. I always had my ear open for realizations about the music. I still do that, because it's what I do, but on the other hand, I don't feel obligated to do it, or obligated to remember it, or do anything with it. So I think carefree is a pretty good adjective to describe that kind of listening. I give myself permission to listen to things that I’m not writing about, that I don't have to prove my knowledge of, or whatever, and that's been very liberating.

Joe:

Dwight Andrews, who teaches at Emory University, speaks of “looking to be filled with the joy of the sound.” Like Pat, Dwight finds pleasure-oriented listening to be “liberating.”

Dwight Andrews:

So much of my listening has been driven by my work and my career, and so much of even the repertoire has been guided by the project that I'm working on or trying to complete. I think one of the things that has changed for me is I feel much less of an urge to do goal-oriented listening, you know, in preparation for a paper or class. And I'm listening now I think much more for my own enjoyment and edification, and I find that tremendously liberating. I’m not looking for an imbrication of anything. I’m looking to be filled with the joy of the sound.

Dwight Andrews:

And I do find that liberating. It's almost like the very thing that drew us to music in the first place, when we were kids, I think I’m going back to that kind of joy: completely uneducated, uninformed. Carefree I think it's a great term for it because I’m just allowing the music to speak.

Joe:

Bill Caplin, who is in his last semester of teaching at McGill after 44 years there, speaks of the pleasures of just listening, without the encumbrance of professional obligations. Instead of structural hearing, he is letting the sound wash over him.

Bill Caplin:

About four or five years ago I bought myself a new stereo and I got the librarian to permit me to go into the shelves and to pull out any CDs that I want of the 350,000 CDs, they have in the collection. And of course there's also the Naxos streaming. And I felt like a child in a candy store. And I've been listening almost three to four evenings a week, two to three hours an evening. Non-stop. It's been the most wonderful experience of my musical life.

Joe:

It sounds like instead of listening for a particular work-related purpose, you're listening in a much more free pleasure-oriented way.

Bill Caplin:

Completely pleasure-oriented. Nothing that I have to listen to. I want the music to wash over me. I want to luxuriate in the sound, purely living in the sonic quality.

Joe:

Dwight Andrews similarly experiences a kind of listening that is both free of professional obligations and concerns with musical structure, where the sound can just wash over him.

Dwight Andrews:

I’m listening in a different way. What exhilarated me when we were students is the way that I really did hear these prolongations, I mean I musically heard some of these concepts and that really provided an energizing kind of window to listening to music that I performed, but never thought of in quite the same way. Now I’ve set all of that aside and I’m just kind of simply listening to the sound and letting it wash over.

Music:

[bumper music playing]

Joe:

One of the pleasures of listening while old is the pleasure not only of listening to lots of music, but to listening to an expanding repertoire of music, both revisiting music you knew earlier in life, and music that is new to you. Here is Judy Lochhead, who teaches at Stony Brook.

Judy Lochhead:

I listen now more than I've ever listened to my entire life. Just because it's so easy. I listen to a lot more jazz now and different jazz players. I listen to what I would call avant-garde popular musics a lot more. And, and then, of course, I listen to contemporary classical things. So most of the music I listen to is kind of on the fringes, but every once in a while I gotta listen to Taylor Swift to find out what people are talking about.

Joe:

Michael Cherlin, who retired a few years ago from the University of Minnesota, listens to a broad mixture of avant-garde classical music, pop music, and classical jazz.

Michael Cherlin:

A month or so ago, I was trying to get closer to a piece by Brian Ferneyhough. James Dillon is a friend and so I listen to his music. Pop music. YouTube is a nice resource for me and then I enjoy going through different versions of pop tunes. Jazz I don't listen to too much anymore, but every once in a while I'll listen to some Miles Davis or Coltrane--some of the people that I adored when I was in that world.

Joe:

Pat McCreless has also turned toward jazz.

Pat McCreless:

I still love the repertoires that I’ve always been interested in, but at home, we tend to listen to jazz most of the time. And I think one of the aspects of that is that jazz is and there is a really physical aspect right, that is not necessarily the case with a lot of classical music. It's a nice contrast, it's a different kind of listening. You know that you're listening to improvising and the way that one constructs things and proceeds things real quickly--it's just different.

Pat McCreless:

Listening to jazz, I don't particularly feel compelled to know exactly who it is, or what period of their jazz careers, it was. I just listen. And the withdrawal of the obligation to remember, and put it into your giant catalog of composers, pieces, and dates--I don't have to do that.

Joe:

Dwight Andrews, who has been closely engaged with jazz for much of his career, has an even more eclectic range of listening preferences.

Dwight Andrews:

Ironically Beethoven is kind of resonating with me more now than Dr Dre. I don't know if that's age or, you know, just my ears. I am listening, a lot more to contemporary opera I will say, and musicals. I’m listening to a lot more country and western these days. Country Western was not my bailiwick but you know there's something about is something about when the guy loses his gal that I, I get it.

Joe:

Bill Caplin has become something of a musical explorer, within an expanding musical world.

Bill Caplin:

Going back to medieval and Renaissance music, which I've been listening to a lot of that, too. So that wasn't something completely new, but I'm listening to it in new ways, and of course there are lots of new performances of it. I never much liked Italian opera, for example. That’s starting to come, it really is starting to come. Verdi is really is making sense to me now in ways that I just didn't get at all.

Joe:

One of the cliches about getting old is that your musical tastes become more conservative and people tend to glom on more and more to the music that they knew and loved when they were in their teens and 20s. But it sounds like you, Bill, are still on something of a of a quest. You're still exploring in a very active way and not, in a sense, reverting to the taste of your youth.

Bill Caplin:

Right, I'd say so, although some of the tastes of my youth I have enjoyed getting back to, particularly in the in the world of jazz. I’ve been going back to that so that's been something that's really been fun to go back to and to broaden out there as well. And even some popular music, too. I’m not constricting, I’m opening up actually, more and more. Yeah I just feel there's so much there.

Joe:

Judy Lochhead is also an explorer, a quester, pushing the boundaries of her knowledge.

Judy Lochhead:

I would actually not necessarily characterize the way I listen as carefree. I see myself more as a kind of explorer, like, I want to find out what people are doing. So it's all kind of driven by this what's happening now.

Joe:

it's fascinating because, of course, one of the cliches about old age is that you get tired, you're not interested in things that are new, you have to retreat to kind of secondary role as a benevolent caregiver, or a mentor, or a teacher. But the idea that you as an old person can be a questing hero in search of discoveries, including self-discovery--that's not part of the routine usually. But it sounds like you, Judy Lochhead, position yourself very clearly, as a kind of explorer. You're still interested, more interested than you were before, in the things that are new, because you no longer are encumbered by any kind of obligation, moral or professional, to do anything else.

Judy Lochhead:

Yeah, I can just do what I want.

Music:

[bumper music playing]

Joe:

I think of old hearing as richly intertextual—in every piece you listen to, you hear echoes of, resonances of, the growing population of pieces you already know. Knowing lots and lots of pieces deepens the listening experience. Here is Scott Burnham, my colleague at the CUNY Graduate Center:

Scott Burnham:

Having spent decades now around some of these genres of music, I feel like I’m a more knowledgeable listener. Sometimes there's a process of confirmation, that oh yeah here, he is now he's doing this and now he's doing that, and so I probably have more of that sense of it. It's sort of like when you're reading fiction and you're paying attention not only to the narrative but to how the author is staging things and what's happening on that kind of level. I’m probably more likely to do that with a piece of music.

Scott Burnham:

It's not intertextual, but it's the whole idea of hearing conventions. Oh so well, that was a pretty you know abrupt medial caesura, or something like that. And that's one of the great things about tonal music, especially in the forms that we know and love. You always have a sense of where you are. If you stop, if you pick the needle up, so to speak, at any point and stop the recording it depends how you've been listening if you've been paying attention, guys like us are likely to be able to say, Oh yeah we just heard the big cadence at the end of the second theme group, or, yeah we just now set down in the retransition, or, yeah, we're in in the coda here waiting for Beethoven wrap it up.

Joe:

In a related way, Michael Cherlin thinks of old hearing as intergenerational, an increasingly crowded social space where the old listener falls into conversation with the composer, with all the performers of the piece heard over the years, with teachers who taught us the piece, students who studied the piece with us, friends we listened with, or played with.

Michael Cherlin:

Intergenerational thought becomes magnified as you grow older. For me at least it's been a kind of gradual process of accumulation. I knew that intellectually, for a long time, for decades and decades, but knowing intellectually and knowing experientially are two different things. The experiential side magnified over the years and now it's extremely strong part of the way I perceive music, not just by placing it in a time and place, but by hearing it as every piece of musical elements is reaching back through generations and as forecasting forward as later generations take it on. That's become a stronger part of my experience.

Michael Cherlin:

About two years ago I was playing piano every day. While I was doing it, the feeling of interacting with another human being (and the human being was Mozart or Chopin or Beethoven, Schubert: not a piece of music, but a human being. Not that it was mystically channeling someone or anything like that, but it felt as if there was a human presence that was there for me and that I wasn't playing music, I was almost like embracing another human being across death, across time and space--that that was very palpable.

Joe:

I think about it as a kind of enhanced intertextuality in a way. So you know you listen to a piece now, you're aware of the presence of the composer but also of all the hundreds of performances you've heard and all those individual personalities. And if you've read other people talking about the piece, they are there too. It's like the marital bed, Michael--it's a very, very populous place. There are a lot of presences there other than you and the piece. The whole family is gathered there.

Michael Cherlin:

I think you're exactly right: there are a lot of ghosts that inhabit any literary, musical, or theatrical space. and as we live longer, the presence of the ghosts it's not that they attenuate: they intensify. My mom and dad died when I was 25 and 26. Okay well that's 50 years ago now. They're with me every day, more than they were 30 years ago or 40 years ago. As you grow old, you're not even reaching back it becomes it's so internalized. I think about that all the time, and of course I think about it, I think we all do, in terms of our teachers, the ones that meant something to us in our life. And they become, again, instead of being diminished over time, for me at least magnified over time.

Joe:

Janet Schmalfeldt, who retired a few years ago from Tufts University, reports a similar sense of ghostly presence: every piece she hears now is haunted (usually in a benevolent way) by all the people with whom she has shared the piece over many years: it’s a crowded scene of social interaction.

Janet Schmalfeldt:

I’ve been playing piano since I was four or five years old. I have a repertoire of piano music that dates way back to earlier generations, it feels like. When music of my past comes to me, I am really struck with the extent to which that music is carrying an incredible baggage package of memories and places and times and rooms that I might have been in and people that I knew at the time.

Joe:

Old listening is a deep dive. It can be a deep dive within, to a quiet source of personal energy and creativity. Dwight Andrews:

Dwight Andrews:

Because I’m trying to write a lot of music right now, I'm doing less listening. Because I kind of need to clear the desk kind of notes, as in pieces and repertoire and composers, and trying to listen to my own voice. And so I’ve kind of shut out a lot of listening that is not driven by my just wanting to be filled with the sound. Because right now I’m trying to really create some space for my own creative energy. All of my theatre work was always driven by a project, you know, a new work, a new timetable, a new Broadway schedule, and so everything was directed around that kind of work. But now I've really become interested in rethinking kind of my own creative impulse.

Joe:

Old listening can be a deep dive into a private quiet space where a musical work can be contemplated in silence. Janet Schmalfeldt:

Janet Schmalfeldt:

My tendency is to begin with a project like that, if it's tonal music, to begin right here at my desk with my pencil and my ruler, and my silent listening, my private listening. I can hear silently when I look at scores, as long as it's tonal. I mean I get pretty sloppy but, until we get to Mahler, let’s say, I have that skill, which means that I can be looking at looking at a page and I'm hearing it.

Joe:

It sounds like you have gone deeper in areas and in works of music that you that you've known a long time: you're not a snorkeler, you're a deep diver.

Janet Schmalfeldt:

Yes, thank you. I would like to say, yes that's me.

Joe:

And old listening can be a deep dive into the sounds of a piece, to a piece deep inside the piece—zooming in rather than zooming out, as Judy Lochhead says:

Judy Lochhead:

Do I listen differently? Well, I use really expensive headphones now. Because when I do a lot of the analytical work that I'm doing, you need really good speakers to pick out some of the stuff. It's been actually really amazing to use these headphones. You can hear more. You can really kind of focus in and you're aware of how your hearing will change. It was prompted by my desire to make these really fine distinctions of sounds. When you're dealing with all these timbral works, where it really makes a difference, you know, the particularities of it. So in a certain way it's just kind of gotten more you know zoom in and not so much zoom out in my listening. And I think that's partly because of the work I've been doing. But you know I mean it could be that this has something to do with aging--that you're more interested in the intensity of the experience of the sound.

Judy Lochhead:

I spent all this time working on this Chaya Czernowin piece. Because I spent so much time with it, and listening to it in such detail, I mean I felt like, I almost felt like I was one with that piece. You know I could get into it and it became this living being. It's not like the piece is out there and you're listening to it, you're inside of it. And you know what's going to happen, but it's still kind of exciting, because you start to hear different things as you're listening to it.

Judy Lochhead:

When you perform, you feel inside of a piece. And it’s more like my experiences as when I perform. Just being completely inside of the sound. But I think I can do it now if I'm just interacting with it, through sustained listening practice.

Music:

[bumper music playing]

Joe:

Old listeners may be specially sensitized to the emotional power of music, a power that is enhanced rather than reduced by extensive musical and life experience. Here is Scott Burnham.

Scott Burnham:

I often get this kind of rush with composers that I’ve loved for years, and my trio is probably Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, where I’ll hear something for the you know hundredth time and be more moved by it than ever. I’m much more likely to become emotional when listening to music I love than I used to. And maybe that's another thing about getting older: I’m just generally more emotional about stuff. The longer you live, the more you lose, and the more you come to value things in a way that our emotional system responds to, I think.

Joe:

Charles Burkhart, who retired many years ago from Queens College and The CUNY Graduate Center, has a similar experience of emotional intensity, enhanced by age.

Charles Burkhart:

When I listen I just listen for pure pleasure. I listen to favorite works. I’ll get interested in some piece and say, well, I ought to listen to that. And I’ll bring it up on YouTube and choose a performance, or more than one. I would say my aesthetic response has not weakened with age. I’ve heard that in some people it does; it hasn't with me. Listening sometimes will bring incipient tears to my eyes.

Joe:

For Dwight Andrews, the emotional power of music has a spiritual dimension, conducing to a different level of consciousness.

Dwight Andrews:

We in our lives do reach a point where we understand music to have a kind of transcendental capacity which obviously, many traditions around the world have already understood that, without trying to analyze it, but rather to simply experience and appreciate it. Why do I enjoy A Love Supreme so much? Why has that had a sustaining power in ways that other great performances don't? And I think that it's because I’m allowing it to do what it does, you know, which is to console, to heal, to just allow you to breathe in the music. I’m enjoying the power of that and I think that's really inspiring to understand that music has this collective capacity to really construct new ideas about consciousness and understanding.

Joe:

Old hearing involves increased sensitivity to the consoling, healing power of music. For Michael Cherlin, simple acts of making music, like singing or humming, can confer mental health and spiritual benefits.

Michael Cherlin:

Playing music is healthy. It's therapeutic - I mean that's maybe cliched and trivial in a way, but I think it's very hard to be profoundly depressed if you're singing. I really believe that now, and I think it's spiritual essentially--it's the whole package you know--it's everything we can be. and I think I understand that in a different way, maybe a little better or more deeply.

Michael Cherlin:

My dad - born in Vilnius in 1904. He was maybe the last of generations that sang while they work, because he was born into a world that didn't have radios and all that stuff. And people sang while they worked. He was a tailor in Europe, a carpenter when he first came to America and then later, a photographer. So when he did tailoring, carpentry, or work in the dark room, he sang incessantly. It could be old pop tunes, it could be Yiddish songs, it could be Hebrew songs, all kinds of stuff in the mix, but he sang. I think overall across the population, singing is a healthy thing, and the fact that we don't sing much anymore as we work is to our deficit

Joe:

Do you find that you sing and hum and whistle more than you used to?.

Michael Cherlin:

Well I've made a point of it once I read that Rabbi Akiva said, “Sing every day, sing every day.” He said it twice. So when I’m not singing I try to remind myself all right, you can sing a little song.

Joe:

For Severine Neff, who retired a few years ago from UNC-Chapel Hill, the consoling power of music inheres in a relationship with particular musical works, with which she has developed a particular affinity over many years.

Severine Neff:

I started thinking whether there were pieces that kind of followed me through life. They give me a sense of healing and a different perspective. It’s a different psychological state. And in the times in my life I haven't been well for one reason or another, I made clips of certain parts of pieces that revived me and spoke to me so intensely. They give you rejuvenation and a reason to calm down, to get yourself back into a mode where not all is black. The depth of what they have to say and the effect of something going on, as opposed to just sitting fixed and accepting your fate, it has a kind of metaphorical feel to it, to make things not necessarily happy or anything, but different.

Severine Neff:

I think musically you listen harder, you want more from that passage or that piece. It's speaking to you. It's giving you, I guess I don't know what Schoenberg would say, “idea.” You're going to a different realm of your consciousness. So I think that it can take you to another place and help.

Joe:

For many old listeners, the experience of music may rise to the level of a religious experience. But for Charles Burkhart, however intense and spiritual the experience of music, it cannot quite match the experience of religious belief itself.

Charles Burkhart:

There's one big way I have changed. But it's larger than music. I’m very, very conscious of approaching death. How could I not be at 93. I don't want to die. But I know I surely will relatively soon. And I had a very religious upbringing. Very strict, old fashioned. I was brought up a Mennonite. Church every Sunday. My father, actually, he never had a church of his own, but he was an ordained preacher. I lost my faith in metaphysical religion. Finally. 30 years ago. I thought, I cannot believe in metaphysical religion anymore. If there's a God, he's unknowable and there may not be one. And this left a great hole and my stomach. I missed the comforts of religion.

Joe:

Many people say that music plays a role in their lives, somewhat analogous to the role that religion plays in other people’s lives, which is, you know, a sense of the oceanic, a sense of something transcendent beyond the daily. But that doesn't seem to be the case for you.

Charles Burkhart:

No it isn't, because I really was seriously religious and I know what that means, and it ain't the same.

Music:

[bumper music playing]

Joe:

Many old listeners have a sense that time is short and that every moment is therefore precious. They don’t want to waste time with music that does not engage them at a deep level, that is not soul-nourishing. Old listeners are impatient, and listen with a sense of urgency. Dwight Andrews.

Dwight Andrews:

The one thing that's changed for me, Joe, that I think is really important is I don't do much kind of background listening, in other words, I don't put music on while I’m doing something else. I’m very purposeful now in kind of my listening experience until I clear the clutter so that I can experience the music without you know answering emails or you know creating a study guide for the next segment. I’m doing kind of dedicated carefree listening so I just go to something, because I want to hear it, I hear it, and I don't put anything in the way that would interfere that experience.

Joe:

I said to Michael Cherlin that I found myself increasingly impatient as a listener. Impatience is part of being older too. You have a sense that time is not infinite. And I don't want to spend any time, as a listener, or in any other dimension, with things that are not soul nourishing in some way.

Michael Cherlin:

When you're young, and coming into the world of music, it’s all out there for you to discover. And that important part of our voyage, is that that opening up of new spaces. As you grow older it's not that there aren’t new spaces to be discovered, but it becomes a deepening of older spaces to some significant degree. I think that's just a natural part of the of the aging process. You don't have time to waste on literature or music that doesn't feed you, that you don’t care about. I go to YouTube and I'm going to hear X’s version of some song, and I hear the opening few phrases, and I go, okay, “Bye.”

Joe:

For Judy Lochhead, there are whole bodies of music that no longer interest her. They are overfamiliar, and she is impatient for newer and more meaningful experiences.

Judy Lochhead:

I used to be able to tolerate listening to Beethoven. I can't anymore I just cannot listen to Beethoven. But it's not simply that it’s too bombastic, it’s just I’ve heard it so many times it doesn't interest me anymore. I don't find anything enticing about it. There's no there's no mysteries to be got from it. My lack of interest anymore in the central repertoire really has to do with how I see myself as a scholar. Some of it when you're younger is like you need to learn the repertoire, and you need to know what the repertoire is, and have some familiarity with it, and I have the privilege, now that I kind of know it, I don't need to know it anymore, you know why should I, why should I bother with something that doesn't emotionally do something for me.

Joe:

Finally, listening while old involves acceptance of the limits of our capabilities—as Dwight Andrews says, we won’t get it all done, and that’s all right.

Dwight Andrews:

I just turned 70 so you know when you're 70 you know that the window of time is shorter. I don't feel terribly anxious about it, but it has helped me to become much more efficient, and clearing the clutter. Aging has given me permission to know that you won't get it all done and that's all right. One of the reasons why I went toward music theory was I thought that creating a theoretical apparatus, we're looking not just at Stravinsky or Bartok, but at African American music.

Dwight Andrews:

That I could be perhaps a vehicle to open up or kind of re centering the canon that would be more inclusive. I also thought that I would be on the cusp of many more African American theorists. I have been terribly disappointed. You can't be both the be evangelist and the guerrilla warfare person and also get tenure, and try to write papers and books. I’ve given myself permission to say that, well, I had these high ambitions for how things would change and sadly they haven't. But part of maturity is understanding that this is a very long continuum, and so I think we do what we can while we're here, and not worry about the rest.

Joe:

If I could generalize a bit from Dwight’s powerful statement, I’d say that part of being old and listening while old is accepting both the things your body enables and the things it circumscribes. As listeners, as musicians, as human beings, we do what we can while we’re here, and learn not to worry so much about the rest.

Music:

[bumper music playing]

Joe:

I started out this episode by identifying four attributes of listening oldly. I said that old hearing is resonant, deep, slow, and multi-sensory. Thanks to my old friends—Dwight Andrews, Charles Burkhart, Scott Burnham, Bill Caplin, Michael Cherlin, Judy Lochhead, Pat McCreless, Severine Neff, and Janet Schmalfeldt—I have now added a number of additional attributes to my inventory. Old listening, I have come to understand, is pleasure-oriented and expansive in its choice of repertoire; it is intertextual and intergenerational, and it is a deep dive. It involves increased awareness of the emotional power of music, as well as music’s power to console. Old listening is urgent and impatient, but also accepting of limitations. In all of these ways, old listening is listening that emerges from a particular sort of embodiment, an old body. But it is not therefore an inferior sort of listening, the product of decline and diminishing capacity. Rather, old listening, like composing while old and performing while old, is a distinctive and valuable sort of musicking.

Joe:

And so we come to the end of this five-episode podcast on Musicking While Old. At the beginning of the first episode, I issued a sort of challenge. I said, “Let’s see if we can shift our attention away from biomedicine and toward the lived experience of old age. Let’s see if we can learn to think of old age the way Disability Studies thinks of disability: as a different sort of embodiment; a difference not a deficit; a way of being in the world; a social, political, and personal identity to be valued and affirmatively claimed.” In the episodes that followed, I talked about various aspects of musicking in old age, including composing while old, performing while old, and, today, listening while old. In each case, I described the musical culture of old age, not as a wasteland of decline, but as a rich, fertile ground for creative exploration and artistic and personal growth. And so I end this series as I began it, by embracing my political, social, cultural, and musical identity as an old person. I am proud to be old—an old music theorist.

Music:

[SMT-Pod closing music begins]

Joe:

I had fun talking again with my old friends— Dwight Andrews, Charles Burkhart, Scott Burnham, Bill Caplin, Michael Cherlin, Judy Lochhead, Pat McCreless, Severine Neff, and Janet Schmalfeldt—and I am grateful to them for sharing their time and wisdom. Mike Kinney, the peer reviewer for this episode, made many helpful suggestions, and has been a valuable interlocutor throughout the series. And once again, I offer my warm thanks to the editorial dream team for SMT-Pod: Jennifer Beavers, Katrina Roush, and Megan Lyons.

SMT:

Visit our website smt-pod.org for supplemental materials related to this episode at smt-pod.org. And join in on the conversation by tweeting your questions and comments @SMT_Pod. SMT Pod's theme music was written by Zhangcheng Lu with closing music by David Voss. Thanks for listening!

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