How We Listen by Aaron Copland - Essay Example

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In his essay, How We Listen, Aaron Copland classifies the listening process into three parts: the sensuous plane, the expressive plane, and the sheerly musical plane. I believe by this mechanical separation, Copland succeeds in discussing a difficult topic, so natural that most…
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How We Listen by Aaron Copland
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How We Listen by Aaron Copland In his essay, How We Listen, Aaron Copland ifies the listening process into three parts: the sensuous plane, the expressive plane, and the sheerly musical plane. I believe by this mechanical separation, Copland succeeds in discussing a difficult topic, so natural that most people tend to bypass it. He uses an analogy and sometimes stresses in certain situations where these planes are underutilized. The main purpose of this paper is to enlighten the audience on the art of listening and its importance to effective communication just as Copland explains it in his renowned essay. He succeeds in the clarification because of two main methods:
i. Categorizing the listening process in different parts and using an analogy to unite it and bring back the general idea of the listening process and,
ii. By addressing, the various problems faced in the process of listening, so readers get to understand and have a different view of the text (3). 
People look on the sensuous plane for pure entertainment. For example, turning on the radio while doing something else and absentmindedly bathes in the sound. A good listener should realize that a lovely sounding music is not necessarily great music. I believe the sensuous plane before the other two is a useful technique since this is the plane most people often relate to the most. Second plane is the expressive one. Copland then discusses the notion of meaning in music. In his view, music has a meaning but the meaning is not concrete, and sometimes it is difficult for it to be expressed in words. This plane explains why music has a moving and relaxing effect on us. It is harder to grasp and requires more deep thought because Copland claims that meaning in music should be no more than a general concept. This issue is very philosophical, and one must accept the train to understand this plane (4).  
The next plane deals with the manipulation of the notes and offers a more intellectual approach to enhancing musical appreciation. The actual structure of the music as such the length of the note, pitch, harmony, and tone color are emphasized in this section of the essay. This fundamental study of the structure is necessary to form a firm foundation for the musical piece and to understand the diagnosis of it. This technical and more scientific plane is contradictory to the philosophical sensuous plane. For this reason, it is another useful technique of Copland to use factual observations to explain the listening process to the satisfaction of the readers.
After expounding his theory in the way we listen, Copland uses the analogy of a theoretical play to drive the point home. This is yet another useful technique used by him: it gives him the leeway to demonstrate clearly the interrelating of the three planes. Regarding the ideal listener, Copland says:
In a sense, the ideal audience is both inside and outside the music at the same moment, judging it and enjoying it, wishing it would go one way and watching it go another, almost like the composer at the moment he composes it; because in order to write his music, the composer must also be inside and outside his music, carried away but it and yet coldly critical of it (5). 
It is obvious that in Coplands view the best approach consists of the balanced mixture of all three planes.
Copland uses the three planes of the listening process to mark the division of his essay. For great clarity, the text is very clearly organized. He starts with the introduction and tackles the sensuous plane in the second paragraph. Many people may wonder what kind of a problem lie in a pure entertainment plane. He claims that the sensuous plane is abused by people who indulge in music listening to escape reality, yet still address themselves as real lovers of music. He warns:
Yes, the sound appeal of music is a potent and primitive force, but you must not allow it to usurp a disproportionate share of your interest. The sensuous plane is an important one in music, a paramount one, but it does not constitute the whole story (5-6). 
Here, the understanding of the sensuous plane and the actualization that there are more planes in the listening process is stressed. Copland then continues with the expressive plane, objecting to the notion of simple-minded people that music should have concrete meaning. He argues that words cannot explain meaning and that people should just be satisfied with a general concept: feel the music (9). 
Moving to the third plane -the sheerly musical one- Copland talks about music in terms of notes. This plane concentrates on musicians and the audience alike. What may go wrong with the makers of music themselves? According to Copland, professional musicians are sometimes too conscious of the notes, “They [professional musicians] often fall into the error of becoming so engrossed with their arpeggios and staccatos that they forget the deeper aspects of the music they are performing.” From this statement, it is evident that there is a fear of losing the actual meaning of music by ignoring the real sense of the words and language of expression. On the other hand, we have the general audience. Listeners often neglect them. In addition, he argues, "a good listener should know the musical structure in order to enhance the enjoyment of music on this plane" (8). 
In conclusion, Copland puts a lot of emphasis on the need for readers to have a vivid view of the listening process, which he successfully splits up in order to drive his point home. For this reason, the careful division of the process expresses the success of the essay. It is clear that, for us to be effective music listeners, we need to practice and incorporate the above guidelines or views into our normal music listening sessions.

Works Cited
Copland, Aaron. Aaron Copland: a reader: selected writings 1923-1972. Psychology Press, 2004. Read More
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