Letter to a Deep Listener

Dear Pauline Oliveros,

The first I learned about you was just a few months ago, a friend telling me, almost in a whisper, that you were coming here to play, and that I must not miss it.  You are an old woman, and me just over half your age, feel the fool for not knowing your name because when I hear your music I realize that I do know your work, that it percolates through everything I know and have yet to learn about sound, you having learned it from chicken songs and toads and cicadas, pianos and records and radios.  How extraordinary your insight from such a young age, not only to hear, but to acknowledge that this noticing is powerful and something to be cultivated and not forgotten, as so many of us do as we grow older and fall into the responsibilities of adulthood, how easy it is, and sad, to allow the crispness of childhood to surrender to greater states of distraction and complication.  And yet, here you are, old woman, showing us how fruitful and tremendous life is when we learn to practice deep listening, when we embrace the music we hear no matter how unusual that hearing is.

My grade school art teacher taught us to put our heads down on our desks before class, to close our eyes and listen, first to our hearts beating and then to our breath and the noises surrounding our bodies.  She asked us to hear just the noises in the room, just the noises right outside the windows, from the street, from the neighborhood, from the city, from the sky above us, the noises in the furthest reaches of the atmosphere.  Slowly and quietly she guided us into outer space and back again, retracing our steps until we returned to listening to our own breath, our own beating hearts. I secretly loved this art teacher and her strange ways, though my classmates made fun of her, I discovered that if I listened very carefully I could hear the stars humming.

But I forget, and race about and scold my children and get frustrated with my husband and fall into all kinds of worthless modes of thought, envies and jealousies and anxieties, and so it is that I am grateful that you perform and teach and explore and arch your attention to the cutting edge, and we hear you as you share with us, sitting in our chairs on a university campus, an autumn afternoon, these deep wisdoms you have gained over a life time of deep listening.  I aspire to be such an old woman as you, playing your accordion and conch shells and children's toys, expanding out beyond the horizons of all we have already discovered.

Waving my hands at you, I thank you.

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