Listening Out Loud

We hear a great deal throughout our day, but few of us really listen. Our ears kind of go on auto pilot and we instinctively pay attention only to those sounds that trigger our defense mechanisms: Am I too close to that car? Are those footsteps behind me getting closer? Is that the ice cream truck?

Of course, there are many sounds that simply intrude on our aural experience of the day: that other guy's car stereo, cell phones, etc., but when those things are out of the picture, we pretty much go through our day listening to the sounds in our head, the brain chatter we each are subjected to....

But hearing and listening are different things. One is automatic while the other is something some of us brought with us and few people understand. Some of us listen out loud. Some of us brought this faculty with us and some acquired it after the fact, so I'm not sure if it's a condition of nature vs. nurture or not.

I've always been accused of being absent-minded, but that's just not true. My brain just perceives the cacophony of sounds around me, from the high-pitched squeal that comes from florescent lights to the annoying sound of someone eating, even people with fine table manners (it's the actual mastication that bothers me, especially when someone's eating chips or other crunchy food).

When I was a child I assumed everyone heard life like I did and it puzzled me when I found out that that just wasn't true. My family's brows crumpled on countless occasions when I'd ask, "Did you hear that?" when no one else had heard anything. My mother's constant, "You're hearing things" implied that I heard things that weren't there, although I proved her wrong more times than not. I've said many times that my experience of life is an aural one, not only visual. I not only see things going on around me, I hear everything.

One friend said many years ago (in an exasperated tone), "You go to the Hallmark store to buy a card and you buy a card. I go, and I see the people in the mall, the plants, the colors in the shop windows..." What could I say? She was right. But what she didn't know was that I was hearing the stroller wheels clickity-clicking on the tile floor, the echo of the voices in the mall, the splash of water as the gardener tended the potted palms, the wind chimes in Raj of India, and the distinctive clip-clop sound made by the heels of certain shoes worn by elderly women.

It's never been about listening out loud as an exercise, it's just always been there, annoying at times, certainly distracting, nearly esoteric and always exciting. I told you in an earlier entry that I also have synesthesia ("...a neurologically-based phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway"). Simply put, I see color when I hear music. It's not some weebie-wobie, magical gift. In fact, it's carried by the Y chromosome so it's more common in women than in men, although Schubert had it (he likened the key of E-major to a red carnation on a white dress), as does Andre Previn.

In the 80s when I discovered that this had a name, I experimented with it in my favorite bar, racking up the balls when I played pool according to the piece of music I was currently composing. The 1-ball was yellow, which to me is C-major. For example, if I was currently composing in the key of C, I'd put the 1-ball front and center and build behind it with the colors that corresponded to the sub-dominant, dominant, sub-mediant, relative minor and etc. The striped balls were the sharped and flatted keys. Whenever I organized the balls in this fashion, I always won. Always. I won a lot of free beers that way. Whenever I used keys I was not currently working with, I lost. I have witnesses who read this blog, so don't tell me it didn't happen.

Anyway, the point of all this is to lay out a preface for what I experienced yesterday evening.

I'm not one of those people who watch movies through the microscope of myself and my experiences. You'll never hear me say, "Oh, that's me!" I like to lose myself in the characters' lives and forget about me for a while. That's why when we watched August Rush yesterday, seeing my experience of expanded musical awareness in the main character's own was so overwhelming for me. I didn't feel alone, you see. True, I wasn't orphaned (the plot is basically "Oliver", with a twist--pun intended), but I experienced the loneliness he did, as well as the abuse from people who didn't, couldn't, or wouldn't understand.

Growing up, and all the way into my 30s, I felt that I was special, that music had picked me out somehow. But as we get older, life tends to knock that out of us, whatever our gift is. People do everything in their power to tell us that we're quite the opposite of special, that we don't hear anything and that our experience is a lie. As in the movie, I left music. As in the movie, it has been ten years. And as in the movie, I want to get back to it. It was the one place where I felt safe and that I belonged. And despite people telling me I was a freak, it was the one place where, paradoxically, I felt normal.