Great musicians are great listeners. I have found this to be one of the most overlooked characteristics of a great musician. Great musicians are constantly listening with a keen awareness of their musical surroundings. This is particularly true as it relates to performing in an ensemble, be it a band, orchestra, or choir. Tempo, rhythm, dynamics, tone; there are a multitude of elements that work together to create a stellar performance, and an astute musician must have the listening skills necessary to combine these components into a coherent and unified musical expression. As a conducting student, I was taught that listening was one of the most important responsibilities of a good conductor. As a conductor, you are tasked with listening to your internal vision of how the music should sound, having developed this vision through hours of score study and research. You must then coalesce that vision with the actual sound being produced by your ensemble, as you listen and work through the music in rehearsal. Ultimately, your desire is that, in performance, those dual voices become as closely aligned as possible.
Recently, I have developed a growing appreciation for the importance of this skill of listening as it relates to my spiritual walk. Sure, I read the Word of God regularly and pray consistently, but how often do I take time to be still in the presence of God, and listen for the “still small voice” that Elijah hears in 1 Kings 19:12? How often do I drown out His voice with my own thoughts, or with other voices on television, in self-help books, or on social media? I think of the story of young Samuel in 1 Samuel 3. He hears the voice of God calling to him but doesn’t yet recognize God’s voice. How many of us, like Samuel, can’t recognize the voice of God speaking to us? Is it difficult for us to even hear His voice over the clamor of everyday life: work, school, church meetings and rehearsals? Do we take time to intentionally listen for the voice of God? How many of us would recognize His voice when we heard it?
In light of the recent tragic events in Minnesota, Louisiana, and Dallas, I would dare say that now is an important time for us to consider again the skill of listening. Listening for the voice of God, and listening to the voices of our brothers and sisters, particularly those who may not look or speak like us. I think that now is an opportune time to start developing our listening skills, as a great musician must do. Let’s listen to each other’s stories. Let us listen to the burdens and the cries of those around us. Let us listen intently for the Spirit of God as He seeks to guide and direct us through these challenging times. By listening incisively, I believe that we can start to create harmony out of discord; we can begin to sow love out of hatred, and, ultimately, out of despair, bring hope. Are you listening?