The Times of the Day

“Learn to listen, not hear.”

—message in fortune cookie served to me after dinner at Ollie’s last night


The always astute Clarke Bustard responded to my attempt to create a dichotomy between indoor and outdoor music last week by wondering if the next thing worth pondering here is day vs. night music or cold weather vs. warm weather music, so I’ll oblige.

In a world where we feel entitled to listen to anything at any time and in any place, just because it is technologically possible to do so, it is difficult to comprehend the concept that certain music might be more effective at some times than at others. In Medieval Europe, there were chants that were meant to be sung at specific times of the year and even specific canonical hours during the day. This practice lasted for centuries even though nowadays no one thinks twice about performing Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers, created for the evening, in the middle of the afternoon.

Similarly, in India, the fact that various ragas have for millennia been designated as suitable for performance in the morning, afternoon, or evening was not arbitrary, but was the result of a deep philosophical belief in the psychological and physical effects of particular intervals and melodic patterns. Westerners find this odd, but these same westerners are perfectly fine with the notion that there are certain foods and drinks that are better consumed at particular points in the day. Few people drink single malt scotch with breakfast or eat pancakes for dinner, but a similar attention to such details when it comes to the creation and experience of music seems like a barrier to free expression or accessibility. Yet it could ultimately be a musician’s dream come true. Imagine a world where everyone was that tuned in to what you were playing.

In fact, perhaps (horror of horrors for some) there are times when listening to music of any kind is not optimal. In an era where music is used as a personal soundtrack rather than as a means to be receptive to other people and new ideas, it feels heretical to claim that our listening faculties are not always sufficiently ready to absorb certain ideas. This might be the real reason why people claim they don’t like certain music. I’m not trying to set up some sort of elitist hierarchy here; I still believe that we all have the ability to appreciate any music if we come to it open-mindedly and listen with our full attention. But that is something that is just not possible 24/7.

So which pieces of music would be more effectively listened to in the morning, the afternoon, or the evening?

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3 thoughts on “The Times of the Day

  1. pgblu

    Too bad Mr Stockhausen didn’t finish KLANG, so we’ll never really know the answer to your question, Frank.

    Reply
  2. FCM

    The objection probably has more to do with the issue of prescription vs description.

    It isn’t necessarily best to prescribe, on a moral scale, what music “should” or shouldn’t be listened to at certain times/places, in an artistic sense. (Sousa may not be appropriate at a funeral, but it might not be bad art) But it’s a completely valid point to note that different contexts make for very different musical experiences, and one may develop personal tastes and hierarchy for those distinctions.

    “Pour some sugar on me” is best at a bar at 2am in the morning.

    Bach bm mass on a sunday morning, comin down, with my scotch – absolutely divine.

    It makes both ‘morning music’, I suppose.

    Reply
  3. davidwolfson

    No listener ever hears the same piece as any other, and that needs to be factored in to the question of what music might be appropriate to certain times of day/situations as well.

    A song of mine that was originally written for a children’s musical—a setting of the book “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown—was performed yesterday at a funeral service. Why? Because the funeral was for the producer of said children’s musical, for whose family the song had become a favorite. (The song had also been performed at his wife’s memorial service and his daughter’s wedding!)

    And my mother requested long ago that two pieces be played at her funeral: one is Bach’s Air on a G String—and the other is The Stars And Stripes Forever.

    Reply

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