How I Listen to Live Music (no, I’m not sleeping)

There’s no denying the power of seeing music live, as opposed to just listening to a recording. You can see the artists creating the music in real time. You’re a first-hand witness to the passion, technique, focus, talent, the blood sweat and tears that go into every great performance. That’s not even saying anything about hearing a piece for the first time and getting your mind blown when something you’ve never heard before triggers that g-spot in your brain. And when you are hearing a piece you’re familiar with, there’s a sense of excitement and suspense, wondering if it will be as good, better, or worse than the recording you’ve heard countless times before.

But sometimes that passion and suspense can trick me. I find myself enjoying something live that I would never listen to in the solitude of my home, simply because I am drawn in by someone’s performance.

This happens the other way around too. I find myself disliking a live performance because they are playing a great song, but with very little effort or passion included in their performance. Yet I know if I was listening to that song in my home or in my car, I would very likely enjoy the song.

Over the past few months I have seen very many acoustic performers at open mics and piano shows, and for the most part they have been extremely good. I’m not trying to out anyone as a joyless musician or a phony, because I haven’t met any.

What I *AM* trying to do is disprove a potential statement that someone may have for me if they happen to witness me listening to live music, and that statement would be:

“…dude, he fell asleep!”

I am easily deceived by the wonder of seeing music live, and it distorts my aural perception of the song. So sometimes I try to eliminate the judgmental sense of sight by closing my eyes and just enjoying the sound of the song. I tend to judge people and music unfairly because the I think the song they are playing is too easy to play (a common and unfortunate mistake to make when trying to assess the value of a song), or they’re the eighth guitar player I’ve seen that night. There are a myriad of visual and circumstantial reasons to unjustly dismiss a live performance.  The best way I can think of to keep myself from making these hasty and unwarranted conclusions, or falling prey to the potential juxtaposition of sight and sound,  is to close my eyes. I try to imagine myself listening to the song in my home, without the influence of the venue, the lighting, the audience, how long I’ve been there, or the performer’s presentation.

I usually find that I like the song a lot better when I close my eyes. I can focus more on the lyrics and the overall direction and style of the song. I often find a much deeper appreciation for what is being performed. Its hard to separate music from its visual representations. We hear classical music and think of people in frumpy clothes and wigs. We hear country music and see cowboy hats. We hear Lady Gaga and think of a meat dress…or a mermaid in a horse trough, or Janus giving birth to her (his?!?) own head.  My eyes really do deceive me. I see live music and hear an awesome plucking guitar performance from someone who looks to be barely moving their fingers, or dismiss a visually subdued performance of  two chords repeated over and over again when the music gives me goosebumps the second I close my eyes.

So for Big Brother out there, live music does not bore me to sleep. I free myself from making unfair judgments when I listen to music with my eyes closed.

That is, unless you’re a piano player. Then I’m watching your fingers like a hawk, even though I can rarely tell what you’re actually doing.

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