In his essay How We Listen, Aaron Copland classifies and divides the listening process into three parts: the sensuous place, the expressive plane, and the sheerly musical plane (1074). I believe by this mechanical separation, Copland succeeds in discussing difficult topic, so natural that most people tend to by pass it. He uses analogy and sometimes stresses on certain situation where these planes are abused or become a cause of a problem.
The main purpose for Copland to separate the listening process is for the reader to learn and study how they listen.
Coplands success in the clarification mainly because of two methods: (1) Categorizing the listening process in different parts and use an analogy to unite it to bring back the general idea of the listening process and (2) by answering and addressing to problems so the readers will understand and have a different view of the text.
People listen on the sensuous plane for pure entertainment. For example, turning one the radio while doing something else and absentmindedly bathes in the sound (1074).
Copland continues talking about the sound stuff (1075) and how composers manipulate it differently. Good listener should realize that lovely sounding music is not necessarily great music. I believe putting the sensuous plane before the other two is a good technique, since this is the plane most people often relates to.
Second plane is the expressive one. Copland now discusses the notion of meaning in music. In his view, music has a meaning but this meaning is not concrete and sometimes it cannot be expressed in words.
This plane explains why we get moved or relaxed by music. It is more difficult to grasp and required more deep thought because Copland claims that meaning in music should be no more than a general concept (1076). This issue is very philosophical and one must accept the train to understand this plane.
The next plane deals with the manipulation of the notes and offers a more intellectual approach in enhancing musical appreciation. The actual structure of the music as such the length of the note, pitch, harmony, and tone color are emphasized in this section of the essay. This basic study of the structure is a must to form a firm foundation in the musical piece and to understand the diagnosis of it. This technical and more scientific plane is contradictory to the philosophical sensuous plane. Therefore, it is another good technique of Copland to write one right after the other to cover the whole listening process.
after expounding his theory on the way we listen, Copland uses the analogy of a theoretical play to drive the point home. This is yet another good technique used by Copland: allowing him to clearly demonstrate the interrelating of the three planes.
Regarding the ideal listener, Copland says:
In a sense, the ideal listener is both inside and outside the music at the same moment, judging it and enjoying it, wishing it would go one way and watching it go anotheralmost like the composer at the moment he composes it; because in order to write his music, the composer must also be inside and outside his music, carried away but it and yet coldly critical of it. (1078)
It is obvious that in Coplands view the best approach consists of the balanced mixture of all three planes.
Answering and addressing to problems
Copland uses the three planes of the listening process to mark the division of his essay. For great clarity, the text is very clearly organized.
He starts with the introduction and tackles the sensuous plane in the second paragraph. Many people may wonder what kind of a problem lies in a purely entertainment plane. He claims that the sensuous plane is abused by people who listens to music to escape reality, yet still addresses themselves as a good music lovers. Copland warns:
Yes, the sound appeal of music is a potent and primitive force, but you must not allow it to usurp a disproportionate share of your interest. The sensuous plane is an important one in music, a very important one, but it does not constitute the whole story. (1075)
The understanding of sensuous plane and the actualization that there are more planes in the listening process is stressed.
Copland then continues with the expressive plane, objecting to the notion of simple-minded people that music should have concrete meaning. He argues that meaning cannot be explained by words and that people should simply be satisfied with a general concept: feel the music.
Moving to the third plane -the sheerly musical one- Copland talks about music in terms of notes. This plane concerns musicians and audience alike. What may go wrong with the makers of music themselves According to Copland, professional musicians are sometimes too conscious of the notes:
They [professional musicians] often fall into the error of becoming so engrossed with their arpeggios and staccatos that they forget the deeper aspects of the music they are performing. (1077)
From this statement, I believe that theres a fear of losing the expressive plane, if this problem triggers. On the other hand, we have the general audience. Listeners often neglect them. He argues that a good listener should know the musical structure in order to enhance the enjoyment of music on this plane.
Copland stresses the fact that he wants the readers to have a clearer view of the listening process, which he successfully splits up in order to argue his point. The success of the essay are marked by the careful division of the aforementioned process.
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