From the Vault Dept.: This was one of the most compelling talks I’ve ever attended, and I’m grateful to have my review of it linger as a souvenir. Libby Larsen had a distinguished reputation when I saw her in 1985; she has gone on since then to write a multimedia work based on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and won a Grammy as producer of a recording featuring her setting of Sonnets from the Portuguese. She also continues to speak about music, and, in 2010, won a George Peabody Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Music in America.
ARE YOU LISTENING? According to composer Libby Larsen, we may not be as good at listening to music as we could be. She described her own experience observing an audience listening to a work of hers – she is composer-in-residence with the Minnesota Orchestra – or not listening, as seemed more evident. “It made me frustrated and angry,” she said, “so I put together this program on creative listening.
|Libby Larsen | Photo: Ann Marsden|
The talk dealt mainly with the symphonic form, although the techniques described are certainly adaptable to other musical stylings – and to sound in general. Asked to define music, Larsen, who qualifies herself also as a former physics professor, called it “any arrangement of sound over a space of time.”
“You don’t need to know much about music to listen to it,” she began. “You just need to know how to listen.” And, pointing to the ubiquity of background music, she said, “We spend most of our lives tuning it out instead of tuning it in.”