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The Town Crier

Listen and Adjust

by C. John Grom  |  May 4, 2015

A High School Music Director put the following advice to his students on Facebook.  “Listen and adjust, blend your tone, balance your volume. ” As I reflect on ensemble performance fundamentals it strikes me how easily these concepts apply to our daily lives.  By listening, adjusting, blending our tone and balancing our volume we create a better community with similar goals and priorities.”

The more I think about this advice to high school musicians the more meaning it has for me as someone way beyond high school years.  For instance, the first part, “Listen and adjust” applies to the way we take in new information and process it into opinions.  It’s natural for us, upon hearing of an event or the interpretation of an event, to explain it to ourselves based on our own experience and values.  Even with a very small amount of information we are almost driven to make sense of it all and make it fit our view of things.

As we grow and mature we learn that things are not always as they first appear.  We learn to hold back on forming opinions, keep listening for new information and adjust our thoughts and conclusions in our quest for the truth and to recognize our prejudice for what it is.

On April 19, 1995 we all learned of the event where the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City was destroyed with a bomb.  Given the world situation at the time, it was easy to jump to the conclusion that mideast terrorists were involved.

But the events unfolded quickly and we soon learned that the attack was the work of an American extremist.  So, in short order we adjusted our mind set to a new reality and our opinions quickly adjusted and blended into acceptance of the truth and we moved on.

In another case the events did not unfold quite so quicly and opinions had time to set like an old stain and became resistant to updated information.  The news was that an unarmed black youth was shot and killed by a Neighborhood Watch Captain in a gated community in Florida.  The Watch Captain, of European/Hispanic descent, claimed self defense and was released by the police.

With just this information, it was irresistible for some, in trying to satisfy their need for an explanation that was consistent with their world view, to conclude that it was a racially motivated murder and the self-defense claim was completely bogus.

As time went on more information was revealed and most of it supported the story of the Watch Captain.  But it was too late for some.  The stain had become permanently set and the value of listening and adjusting gave way to the comfort of familiar prejudices.

Blending the tone would have been very useful in this case but the dearth of objective commentary on newscasts and talk programs left the conversation extremely one sided.  The tone leaned toward stridency and in some cases shrillness on the part of pundits and spokesmen who could only process the original story line and reasoned blending of opinions was largely avoided.

As for volume, it’s difficult to balance when emotion begins to win out over reason.  Once anger and self-righteous indignation enters the picture, in the form of increased volume, any chance of reaching a blended accommodation or objective view of the truth is gone.  I’m right and you’re wrong dominates the discussion and the community becomes a battlefield.

Once we become committed to a certain narrative and see confirmation for it in all we observe, it is difficult, but I trust not impossible, to convince us of anything that is outside our matrix.  However, if we commit to each other with an open mind and a sincere interest in understanding another point of view, we are moving toward a blended community that is capable of peace, harmony and joy rather than dissention and acrimony.

When you hear an orchestra or a choral group at their best, the musicians are listening and adjusting to each other and the blend is a beautiful thing to hear; no one musician louder than the other because they are all committed to creating the most beautiful possible experience.



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