I like the expression musicality. It is all-inclusive and goes beyond the notion of music and musicians.

Musicality has little to do with any particular style of music. To a sensitive ear, ordinary sounds can be musical. It all depends on you.

Kalyan on Cello

Right now, sit back for a moment and listen to all the sounds surrounding you. Allow yourself to listen out of a relaxed state, without concentrating on anything. I call this ‘open listening’. Include all sounds, whatsoever their source and nature. And include the silence too in your listening. Listen without naming, discriminating or interpreting. As if you were a little child again, not yet knowing the world of language and meanings… you are experiencing musicality right now!

As we all know, we can not close our ears naturally. They are receptors which are continuously ‘on’ and are receptive to sounds all around us – 360 degrees. The ears are not directional like the eyes.

This very fact makes it easy to experience a sense of a connection to the whole – or a sense of oneness – through conscious listening. Listening can easily guide us into a dimension that is vaster than our usual perception of life.

The dictionary differentiates between two types of musicality: to be able to perceive music (musical receptivity) and to be able to reproduce as well as create music (musical creativity).

In my view, the source of musicality is one: it is our receptivity to sound. But the expression of musicality has many different aspects: learning an instrument, using our voice, reading and writing partitions and notations, improvisation, composition, playing in harmony with other musicians and even dance – all of these are expressions of musicality. Nevertheless, the source remains the same: your receptivity to sound in each given moment.

Can you listen and think at the same time? Usually the situation is rather that we listen for a moment and then we think and then we listen and so on… The more you are aware of this process, the more you can give room to the moments of pure listening. And in this relaxed state of listening you become a blissful presence.

These moments of listening have their own intelligence; an intelligence that can respond spontanteously in music and improvisation or remain silent, only reflecting whatsoever sounds are there.

In other words, musicality is the art of listening.

The Auditory Dimension in Everyday Life

We live in a society which is visually oriented. The visual dimension can be much more easily controlled and manipulated than the auditory dimension. Soundscapes are difficult to control and the ear itself can not avoid hearing, even though we can mentally tune out or suppress the sounds that appear unpleasant or disturbing to us.

A common way to deal with undesirable sounds (noises) in our life is to create sound carpets. You experience this in shopping malls, restaurants and so on where additional music or talk is added to the existing soundscape. Also water fountains are used to create an illusion of quietness in noisy places.

You may have also observed that once a sound or noise is permanently present (like the sound produced by ventilators, fans, fridges and many electrical applications), we tend to tune it out and only become aware of it when it disappears.

No age in human history has been as noisy as our current one. So much acoustic information is being thrown at us that we tend to try to protect ourselves.

How? By ignoring the very fact that we are often overwhelmed by sound. This strategy seems to works momentarily, but it makes us insensitive and dull and it tires our body. It creates a continuous undercurrent of stress in us.

So What to Do?

Learn to befriend sounds. Explore and play with the possibility of new attitudes towards sounds. Experience them consciously for what they are – pure and often highly complex acoustic expressions. It is our resistance to certain sounds that most irritates and tires us. And yes, we are all experts in rationalizing and justifying our resistances. How come little children and animals can be so relaxed in the middle of plenty of noise? They don’t resist.

The Process of Befriending Sounds

Start with gentle, easy-to-accept sounds while carefully respecting your individual limits to sound levels and particular situations. Earplugs are helpful tools; they can be adjusted and cut into smaller sizes so that instead of blocking the sound, they help the soundscape to appear further away and thus less invasive.

Let it be a slow process. You might find yourself sitting with your fridge, listening to its hum and discovering all the overtones and nuances in its expression. You might even hum with it or use it as a drone to sing over. You might become aware that it is working for you and that it has no choice other than to hum.

Take a moment at the airport or train station to simply listen consciously to the amazing soundscape surrounding you. You may become curious about the ocean of sounds and noises you live in and learn to befriend, instead of to resist, sounds that you can not avoid meeting in your daily life.

Everything in life is connected. Getting in tune with any type of sound sharpens your listening sensitivity. Then, when you learn or play an instrument or sing, you will easily recognize the same space of auditory sensitivity. But now you are the creator and the listener of the sounds at the same time.

Photo in header by Michel Cadoret