Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Being Seen, Being Heard

Our two-month-old granddaughter is an expert at seeing and being seen. Even at two weeks, when I first met her, she would look deep into my eyes. I could see her, and she could see me. Our two-year-old granddaughter has become an expert at all kinds of other things, but she still has the ability to look deeply into a person's eyes, and to know that she is being seen.

Some of us are not as adept at looking into someone's eyes with the intention of seeing his or her essence. Some of us had the ability in early childhood, but lost it, and some of us who never quite felt "seen" enough in childhood find it difficult to understand the connection between seeing and being seen. For some of us, it becomes a life-long goal to learn to see and learn to be seen. It takes work, but it can be done, though the paths to take are sometimes hard to find.

When we look at a photograph or an image on the television, we are not being seen by that image. When we scroll through images on line we see, but we are not seen. There a lot of people who spend a lot of time "lurking" in the online world who to want to "see" without being seen.

It is unusually easy these days to navigate through life without having much physical interaction. A person can get a college education (and even a K-12 eduction) without much in the way of interaction, and there are ample opportunities to do professional work via computer, thus avoiding seeing and being seen by our co-workers.

We often listen to music under a cloak of invisibility. As lovely as many recordings are, the relationship that any recording has to a person listening to it is one sided. The recording cannot respond to you. You can listen deeply, and pay attention to scads of details. Each listening experience can become more intense for you as you get closer to understanding the way the music is constructed. You can react personally to the particular way the people playing connect to one another, but your presence as a listener will never change the recording.

If you go to a concert and are seen by the people performing, even if it is just as part of a mass audience, the energy and the way you listen can have an effect on the performance. If you are sitting in the front row sleeping, the people playing will notice and react accordingly. So will the members of the audience. Your physical presence at a concert can never really be anonymous, even if you don't know anyone and nobody knows you.

If people are listening attentively, the performing musicians feel it. And there is a sense of communication among members of an audience that you NEVER get when people are sitting in their individual houses or cars listening to a recording.

One of the reasons I love working with children is that we can interact on a deep level: I can see them, and I know that they can see me. If I am working with a child in a lesson and her mind wanders, I can draw her back to the work at hand if I simply listen to her and watch her. Then she can listen to me and watch me. My students LOVE it when they catch me in a mistake: particularly a wrong note or a wrong bowing. I love it when my students see me and hear me. I always present myself as I am, and because of that I expect them to present themselves to me as they are.

When I listen to my students and I ask them to listen to themselves, I believe that they eventually begin to hear themselves. I believe that once they hear themselves they can accept the feelings that come out in their music making. And once they are able to hear themselves, they have a little more of an idea of who they are, at least as musicians.

Every person has stuff to express, and having the means to do it is like an emotional super power.

Because of the illusory and remote nature of internet-dominated interactions, it is easy to feel invisible. And if we aren't constantly raising our "digital voices," whatever we had to say yesterday or last week or last year is no longer interesting to people we are forced to refer to as "followers" or "friends." We are not heard. When we do not engage in those digital platforms, the people we called "friends" no longer "see" us. Unless we really see them in daily off-line life, they are invisible to us, and we are invisible to them.

Yet we all have the same burning need to be seen and heard. Some of us have, for whatever reason (lack of attention when we were children, perhaps) a greater need to keep the flow of energy going in order to communicate what we feel and experience.

Maybe that's why I need musical interaction, and maybe that's why I need it to happen in real time, and in real space. I believe playing music with people (and for people) helps fulfill the need to see and be seen, and the need to hear and be heard. And for those of us who may feel socially awkward (and who doesn't feel that way some time), the music to be played dilutes the awkwardness. In many cases I find that the music obliterates it.

I keep this blog because it helps me to remember that I am a valid human being with things to say. And it's the same with the music I write. I feel that the true value of music exists in the currency of self expression and interaction.

I think that the best gift I can give is to write music and make arrangements that people can use to communicate with one another. And the greatest gift I can receive is to see and hear people enjoying themselves and expressing themselves through my work (the next best gift is being told about it). It's nice to remember that prose, poetry, art, and music can continue to do what it does, even when the people who first "brought it to life" are no longer around.

This piece, that I wrote around 20 years ago, is a musical response to a memorial reading (included without attribution, and most certainly written by someone who is no longer alive) from the New Union Prayer Book:
In light we see; in light we are seen. The flames dance and our lives are full. But as night follows day, the candle of our life burns down and gutters. There is an end to the flames. We see no more and are no more seen. Yet we do not despair, for we are more than a memory slowly fading into the darkness. With our lives we give life. Something of us can never die: we move in the eternal cycle of darkness and death, of light and life.

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