Moving From “I Hate It” to “I Love It”
I just listened to a story on NPR called “Can You Learn to Like Music You Hate?” It reported findings from an Australian study in which was suggested that the more dissonance (described as “perceived roughness, harshness, unpleasantness, or difficulty in listening to the sound”) we hear in music, the less we enjoy the music. While that would seem obvious, there were a couple of other observations that were interesting to me. One was that “when listeners hadn’t previously encountered a certain chord, they found it nearly impossible to hear the individul notes that comprise it.” It wasn’t that they didn’t like the chord, but that they couldn’t understand it, just like hearing a word in a foreign language and perceiving it simply as noise rather than a specific meaning. The other thing which caught my interest was the finding that as the participants in the study understood more about the music’s structure, the more they enjoyed what they were hearing.
All this led me to consider choral pieces I once despised, and later learned to love. Note my use of the word “despise.” I’m not talking about rating a piece as merely unenjoyable – I’m suggesting a piece I really didn’t like at first, yet ultimately learned to enjoy at a very deep level, both intellectually and emotionally.
My earliest example of moving from “hate to love” is Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms.” I first heard the piece at the age of twenty, a time in which I was totally immersed in beautiful, flowing melodies, and rich, luxurious harmonies. My favorite composers were Brahms, Debussy, Verdi and Puccini. With my twenty year old ears, I’m afraid Stravinsky didn’t have a chance! However, I’m glad to admit that after being strongly encouraged to learn the piece (since my college chorus was to sing it in an upcoming concert) I found that the dissonant chords, jarring rhythms, and short melodic fragments really began to grow on me. By the time we performed the piece it was one of my favorites – and I had begun a lifelong love of Stravinsky’s music.
What I learned from that experience so many years ago (and it has served me well ever since) was that I have to give new sounds a chance. I need to listen enough to new music so it can become “familiar” to me. I need to study the structure of the music in order to better understand what the composer is trying to say. In short, I need to be open to new possibilities in musical sound and expression. I’m certainly not suggesting that I always end up enjoying every piece I initially do not enjoy, but I can honestly say there have been countless pieces of music over the years that I was ready to discard after my first exposure to them and that these pieces later become some of my favorites. I shared my “Symphony of Psalms” experience. What piece did you originally hate and then learn to love?