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musician’s “ear” is the sine quanon of musicianship, the hallmarkof a God-given gi of musicaltalent. How well we hear sounds in amusical context is an indicator of musicalaptitude, for hearing is the foundation ofwhat we do and how we do it as musicians.Hearing is the most common rst step inmusic making: Even before we learnedto read music, our rst musical soundswere likely produced when we tried toimitate something we heard. This samedevelopmental action is also the basis ofmany musical forms, particularly the call-and-response
and, more pertinently, thedialogic elements of the Mass. Hearing isfundamental in music.If we study music seriously, we developour listening skills further in ear trainingclasses. But even without formal training,our musical hearing develops through at-tentive listening and collaborative musicmaking with other musicians. Ideally, thissharply honed hearing acuity becomesan intrinsic part of our musicianship. Wedon’t have to think about: We just do it.
What We Hear Maers
In pastoral music, what we hear mat-ters, and it maers for many of the samereasons that it maers in other musicalarenas. It enables us to produce musicwith accurate intonation, precise rhythms,and eective dynamics—the musical char-acteristics of quality—and
quality maersin liturgy.
Using our musical gis in thesacred liturgy glories our Creator andgives voice to the Body of Christ. Unlikeperformative music, however, excellence
Hearing Is Fundamental
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Dr. Dennis Fleisher is an acousticsconsultant and designer who has worked onacoustics for more than 250 churches andchapels and 25 cathedrals during a careerthat has spanned more than 25 years. Withundergraduate degrees in music perfor
mance and music education, a master’sdegree in music theory, and an interdis
ciplinary doctorate in physics, acoustics,and music, Dr. Fleisher is the principal for MuSonics in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
in pastoral music is not for entertain-ment or to elicit praise, though we areinspired to excel through the armationof a responsive and participating assem- bly—liturgical actions that we help foster.Making music for liturgy with precisionand beauty, with quality and appropriate-ness, is, ideally, transparent: The musicis foremost, not the performance or theperformer.The selection of appropriate music isimportant in our ministry, but so too is thequality of our music making because boththe music itself and the way it is renderedcan eect or encourage participation. Play-ing music poorly can be distracting andalienating; playing well can be engagingand inspiring. Our eectiveness in engag-ing the rest of the worshiping assembly can be strongly inuenced by basic elementsof musical sound including intonation,accuracy, pleasing tone, and tempos. Tosome extent most of these things can beheard within the space shared by the musicministry, but we need to realize that whatwe hear among the musicians is quite dif-ferent from what the rest of the assemblyhears.These musical elements—pitch,rhythm, and dynamics—and the needto hear them clearly and accurately arecommon to all types of music making:They are largely intra-ensemble
in thatthe key interaction is from musician tomusician. There is, however, anotherimportant facet of musical hearing that isless oen addressed and more complex:the one between the musicians and thelisteners. In the performance world thatmeans the interaction between the stageand the audience; in the liturgical world itmeans the interaction between the musicministry and the rest of the assembly. Thisis the
part of music making that mat-ters: What
hear maers.Of all the musical elements listed sofar, there is one that gets less aentionthan other elements in musical forma-tion: dynamics. It’s usually not until wehave facility in
making the notes
that weadd dynamics. As a music student andeducator, I encountered many exercisesin music theory and ear training relatedto pitch and rhythm but few (if any) fordynamics. This may be because pitch andrhythm can be quantied and measured:Pitches are measured in frequency (vi- brations per second), while tempos andrhythms are gauged by time, usually inseconds. Dynamic levels, however, arehighly subjective, and though there is a
scale in acoustics to quantify loud-ness precisely, there are no commonly usedloudness scales in music.
Of all the musical elements in the con-trol of pastoral musicians which can havesignicant impact on liturgy, dynamics isone of the most important though one ofthe most overlooked, particularly at theupper extreme of the dynamic range: ex-cessive loudness. Our ability to hear howloud we are in the assembly is a critical butchallenging aspect of our music makingand pastoral priorities. Let’s examine thechallenges and the means to overcomethem in using dynamics eectively tosupport and encourage—not hinder andfrustrate—the singing assembly.