Deep Listening in the Music Classroom

composers, improvisation, music educationNo Comments

You Are Here:, improvisation, music educationDeep Listening in the Music Classroom

[Originally posted August, 2007 & Updated Dec, 2016]

Pauline Oliveros’s Inspiration

The wonderful composer and performer Pauline Oliveros, recently passed away leaving a legacy of music, ideas, and thinking about sound and people. I first came across Pauline Oliveros during my undergraduate work and remember looking at some of her vocal scores in the library stacks, fascinated by her use of the voice as sound.

Pauline Oliveros
Photo by Pinar Temiz

Years later, I remember hearing her perform with a souped up accordion at the Knitting Factory in NYC. Later on, I remember witnessing Pauline Oliveros performing with others and dancers on a stage at Northwestern University simultaneously as other performed physically elsewhere all collaborating through live feeds in the virtual world of Second Life projected both behind the physical stage and in an “outdoor” venue in the Second Life virtual environment as avatars listened and danced along.


In 2006 I remember participating in a large-scale performance of Worldwide Tuning Meditation. My most recent experience was a couple of years ago listening to an interview with Oliveros at the International Society for Improvised Music speak about improvisation and her musical perspectives. She has always been (and will always be) an inspiration. The set of posters of “great composers” adorning classrooms across the country should include one of Pauline Oliveros, perhaps with a message for people to listen.

Listening, Meditation and Music Education

Listening is probably one of the most important concepts that our students can learn and engage in. When asking our students to listen, whether to music, sound or each other, do we ask them to listen deeply? This is exactly what composer and performer Pauline Oliveros asks of us. Oliveros spent years developing her concept of Deep Listening and even has an organization that teaches people how to practice deep listening. People across the world have performed and listened to her Worldwide Tuning Meditation in an attempt to connect people across the world and with each other. The tuning meditation also exists for orchestras. I have music education students perform and engage with Worldwide Tuning Meditation as one our first forms of engagement in our Art of Teaching Contemporary Musicians at Arizona State University. In addition to being an important and valuable form of musical engagement in and of itself, I think the music and experience serve as wonderful metaphors for what it means to learn and teach music, particularly in hybrid settings.

Pauline Oliveros
Photo by Rosa Menkman

Sound explorations and sonic meditations are very interesting techniques in helping our students listen in ways in which they might be unfamiliar. As mentioned earlier, at the 2006 International Society for Improvised Music conference Pauline Oliveros led the entire group of attendees in a sonic meditation. I remember feeling amazing afterward and thinking that it would make an excellent transition for students after coming in from the hustle and bustle in the hallway to our music classrooms. Besides encouraging them to listen to each other it might help them gain a sense of their own voice and how it fits within the collective voice of their class.

Besides Oliveros, composers such as R. Murray Schafer encourage us to open our ears, listen and explore sound in new ways. Practicing some of the suggestions in Schafer’s books such as “The Thinking Ear” and “A Sound Education” can lead to a profound change in the way our students and we might approach listening, thinking about and engaging in music.

Pauline Oliveros
Photo by Jan Rijk

Consider trying out a sonic meditation and some of Schafer’s suggestions in your music classes this year.

Think about the important role that Pauline Oliveros has played for music and humanity and consider providing students an opportunity to engage with her music, ideas, and the larger concept of deep listening.

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