Monday, March 23, 2009

Music Meditation

Sitting at the Evanston Symphony yesterday afternoon, after a day of teaching yoga, I was once struck by how listening to music can be a very enjoyable kind of meditation.  Rather than listening in order to "understand" the music, I simply allow the sound to flow past, each note and shifting timbre heard clearly then released as the next note arrives.  Like any meditation, the mind wanders off, thinking "Aren't I so sophisticated for liking classical music?" or "I should buy a high-end speaker system" or "What's for dinner?"  But then a sudden shift in volume or rhythm naturally calls attention back.  It's a practice of "not too tight, not too loose".  The mind can't be so fixated on the music that it becomes rigid or exhausted, nor so expansive that it gets lost in reverie.  The meditation lasts as long as a single piece, or may continue after the music finishes, listening to the more subtle, ambient soundscape.

I find this manner of listening makes classical music much more engaging and pleasurable, in contrast to my previous attempts to appreciate through analyzing the structure in my "Intro to Western Music" in college.  Trying to "figure out" the music got my intellect all stirred up, and I would miss the sensual experience.

The website Pandora is a great resource for listening meditation material.  You have to register, but it's well worth it.  Check out a few of my stations:  Romantic Classical and Instrumental Bluegrass.


  1. LOL, I can totally relate to this post, Nick! Yes, us classical music fans do put ourselves on the "aren't I sophisticated" pedestal every once and a while. :) My difficulty is that I'm typically so familiar with the piece that I can't really get into less of a detached mode when listening. Probably because I always know what's coming next and kind of anticipate it. Your point of "not too tight, not too loose" is right on. I often practice my yoga at home with some chamber music or something from the romantic period playing in the background. Or I wake up to it on the radio and just sit in bed listening for a while (meditating perhaps without knowing it?) I was beginning to think that maybe I was weird in this. But perhaps it's not as uncommon as I thought. I'd be interested to know what piece it was you were listening to at the symphony that triggered this thought.

  2. It was Mendelssohn's "The Hebrides Overture (Fingal's Cave)"