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3 Ways to Truly Listen

In today’s world, we are surrounded by noise, but are we truly listening? Dame Evelyn Glennie is the world’s premier solo percussionist, performing worldwide with the greatest orchestras, conductors and artists. Her solo recordings exceed 40 CDs and are as diverse as her career on-stage. A double GRAMMY award winner and BAFTA nominee, she is also a composer for film, theater and television. Dame Evelyn is currently forming The Evelyn Glennie Collection with a vision to open a centre that embodies her mission to Teach the World to Listen.

We asked Dame Evelyn the following question: "What are three ways to truly listen?" Below is her response:

1. Listen holistically.

What do I know about holistic listening? I continually challenge myself and society to consider our understanding of what listening actually entails and what it means. Consider the difference between listening and hearing. I am deaf but I am perfectly capable of listening. Listening is not a medical condition which can be measured or translated onto a graph. Listening is an action that we decide to engage with. My body is a huge ear, therefore my legs, scalp, fingertips, feet and much more all engage in the listening process. Listening is about opening up the channels of our physical body rather than overloading our ears. Listening is about observing what we see, smell, touch and taste just as the acoustics of a concert hall is my instrument that I paint sound to. The instrument I play is simply a tool. I don’t hear an acoustic when I stand still in the hall but I feel its weight and presence. What is the weight of your listening?

2. Take every opportunity to build a listening bridge.

Listening is not about class, structure, age, race, colour or anything else. It is about tapping into what is inside of us. What do we say to ourselves? I get up in the morning and I ask myself, “Shall I have a shower first or breakfast first?” I listen, I reflect, I action. It can be done in a split second but actually just adding a second or two more will make the difference between being reactive to being informed, engaged, thus presenting options, opportunities. Our listening bridge can be built using more patience and thus becomes stronger and more effective. I spend so much time experimenting linking one musical note to another, one sound to another. I can play the notes printed on the score so why don’t I just play the notes I see? Why devote all the time to discovering the multitude of ways that something can be played? It’s because I understand the difference between translation and interpretation. Afterall, it’s my story.

3. The world is your orchestra.

We are all like little musical notes dotted around the planet, moving here and there just as a musician plays the dots they see on a score. Each note is a pearl when it is taken care of just as we are all pearls in the stories we create and project. The musical notes become meaningful to others when they are projected with care and attention. The linking of my musical note to your musical note is done through listening. My story with your story brings forth another story and so it goes on and on – life. This past year during the covid pandemic has highlighted our engagement with listening. We listen to our garden, our home, our local park, a walk down the street, we listen to virtual meetings and conferences, we listen to our neighbours. We have had the opportunity to not only listen but to connect. Try putting your hand on the front of the washing machine, close your eyes and feel the vibrations as the drum spins. Hold a container of water when next on a plane or train and feel the sound through the container to your hands. When does the container start/stop in relation to your hands? It’s impossible to really say. There is no start or stop with listening because we are the sound.

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Read 3 Ways to Truly Listen by Dame Evelyn Glennie, written for the International Women's Forum blog, In the Lead.
3 Ways to Truly Listen
International Women's Forum