Listening. We say we do it, but do we really? Over the years I have found that listening is one of the most important, yet, underrated skills we can offer. There are many different kinds of listening and I've found myself valuing the skill more and more.

If you're an American, like me, you like to talk. You talk about many things. You find yourself endlessly fascinating. I know I do. I'm essentially talking right now. But with letters. The photo at the top is of yours truly conducting an interview during a recent science fair I was documenting. I was charged with the responsibility of creating an engaging promotional video for the company putting on the fair. I rounded up a dozen people during the fair and asked them a series of questions. I had no 'cheat sheet,' I had no list of questions, I just had, in my mind, a few things I wanted to speak with them about. People are naturally uncomfortable in front of a camera, they should be, frankly. I have found that having a real conversation with people, and REALLY listening, will give me the best results. If a subject speaks about something that needs a follow up, I am ready, I'm not scanning my 'to do' list for something to ask. I am engaged in conversation and I need to stay engaged, or they check out. I'm really happy with the Terra Science piece but it will have to wait, we're still awaiting final approval on the edit.


The link above is for a piece I created for SUNY Potsdam to promote their fabulous Education Department. I did this piece a couple of days later. I thought what might be effective, instead of lavish B-roll (there IS a time for that, surely) we would focus on the students, on their faces, their eyes, and what they have to say. I usually speak to people at a slight angle off camera - it makes it easier to have a conversation. For this piece, though, I played peek-a-boo from behind the lens. This was very effective, I think, the students really opened up about their passion for teaching. And the piece is sparse. Just a grey seamless on a stand, a subject, and their thoughts. I try to keep things light and cheerful while I speak with people, they're already a bit on edge being in front of the camera. It's a joy getting to know people, even briefly, people are so different, so unique, and EVERYone has something to say. It's not always easy to get it out of them, but there's something interesting inside of everyone. The people who are the most guarded, who don't really want to talk. They often provide gems, if you can extract... that's the challenge.

Another kind of listening I do is related to the Audio Production courses I teach. I have my students perform listening exercises. You can do it too! It's free! Unless you are taking my class. That costs money. I have my students, at the beginning of the semester, sit somewhere, usually outside, and listen for fifteen minutes or so. They then tell me all of the things they heard, what it sounded like, where the sounds were coming from and what the sounds made them think about. It's amazing how limited our vocabularies are for describing sound. We often are forced to invent words. Why would this be? Is our hearing not equal to our sight? Think of the number of words we use to describe the way things appear... now thing about describing the way things sound. Critical listening is, of course, a necessary component in a student's experience producing audio. If you can't describe a car driving past, how can I trust you to record and react to a cello and violin playing together?

I've also recently been playing in an improvisational music group, there are no charts, no set songs, nothing, just what we create on the spot. Listening is the only way. I can't predict anything. I listen to my fellow players and they listen to me. We ONLY react. The few times I've tried to assert myself...'I'm going to do THIS' are regrettable. It never works. You just have to have faith and go with the flow. 

We take many cues in life from the things we hear, from their location, their volume, the quality of the sound... We react to these sounds without even knowing it. We are often informed or moved by hearing what others say. Why is this being said? What does the person mean? We have a habit of taking initiative, speaking our minds, making a point (clearly, there's a time for this). But take a moment. Sit and listen, you'll be glad you did.