Models Monday: Making Room for Listening (Part I)

One of my favorite things to do on Sunday mornings, sometimes Saturday evenings, is to read the “Sunday Routine” in The New York Times. Though I grew up in a household where people worked on Sunday, if any day can be imagined as one where people are released from the requirement to work, it would easily be Sunday. In “Domestic Work, 1937” in Natasha Trethewey’s collection entitled Domestic work she writes that “Sunday mornings are hers,” acknowledging the one day off for the subject of the poem whose counterparts were historically afforded this one day of reprieve from working in someone else’s house. Trethewey’s subject finds calm where I imagine anxiety if I had only one day to cover all the things I would want to do with my time. Fretful over my choices, I imagine myself paralyzed. It happens to me now and I have a month of Sundays available to me when compared to the women in my grandmother’s generation: Should I read this or that? Should I think about this or that? Should I watch this or listen to that? Should I clean this or that? 

Sunday might be attractive because it can be the one day where people get to be decisive about their time. The details chronicled in the “Sunday Routine” of prominent New Yorkers reveal all manner of decisions about the day. A few Sunday’s ago (Dec. 4), I read about how Choirmaster Kent Tritle spent his Sunday (I provided the link to this article above) and his day was interesting because he works on Sunday as a music director, an organist, and a radio host. What became of interest to me was how he ended the day. Instead of watching television, like so many other folk featured, he and his partner “listened to music.”

Like so many other Times readers (about 8,670 of them) I watch football on Sunday, but I like the notion of dedicating the day, at least part of it, to listening. I would like to spend more time listening. When I was growing up, my family talked a lot about the time they spent listening to music. My grandfather had a music room in the basement. There were turntables, a reel-to-reel player, and what seemed to me to be hundreds of records, 8 track tapes, and reels. I used to go into this room and look at the album covers while sitting on my grandfather’s black stool but I didn’t know how any of the equipment worked. I sat there thinking about how the music might have sounded but I never actually heard any of it.

I was an adult before I ever heard James Moody though I heard talk of Moody’s Mood all the time–I actually really dig collecting covers of classic songs and for this one, I highly recommend George Benson’s (ft. Patti Austin) from the Give Me the Night album. The Brian McKnight cover with Take 6 (on Quincy Jones’s cd Q’s Jook Joint) also makes a strong case for itself.

My son was listening to a cd that came with a book we bought him entitled Duck Ellington Swings through the Zoo. At first my attention was elsewhere but the music was so alluring that I stopped bopping around and tried to give it more of my attention. It was nice hearing the music of Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, and John Coltrane playing while my son and I played with his wooden trains.

I find it difficult making room to concentrate through my ears with a two year old around. I wonder how this worked with the radio generation? When the primary form of entertainment involved listening, were children more inclined to offer silence so that they could hear what was going on?

Interestingly, Henning Mankell had a featured opinion in the NYT yesterday entitled “The Art of Listening.” In it, Mankell suggests that our ability to listen distinguishes human beings from animals, he writes:

It struck me as I listened to those two men that a truer nomination for our species than Homo sapiens might be Homo narrans, the storytelling person. What differentiates us from animals is the fact that we can listen to other people’s dreams, fears, joys, sorrows, desires, and defeats–and they can in turn listen to ours.

I worry over my inability to consistently make room for listening, or more accurately, to make room for enhancing my ability to listen. Hearing plays an important role in an animal’s ability to survive in the wild and I think that listening might serve a similar role for us too.

I listen to books when I make long trips by car but my efforts to do this consistently are undermined because the cd player in my car is broken. I have friends who always listen to books as they drive and I think this a lovely habit. Since my cd player doesn’t work in my car, I am given to indulging my other acoustic craving: silence.

I’m going to try dedicating a part of my Sundays to making room for listening. As I do, I’ll be sure to tell you what I hear. Wouldn’t it be nice to develop a podcast series around this idea? I could call it: Sunday Mornings Are Hers.

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