Friday nights in college. They can be crazy, right? College kids are often known for spending their Friday nights partying or dancing or having big movie nights or going out on the town — things of that nature. All these things certainly have some value in them and appear to be in the spirit of fun and relaxation, which is good. I don’t blame most people for spending their weekends this way.
But nope. Not me. Do you want to know how I spent my Friday night?
I spent it sitting around a big table full of people listening to weird music for two hours. None of us spoke for several minutes. The only sound in the room came from the little speaker which we all circled around, and sometimes even that remained silent.
As some of you probably know, this was the day (September 30th, 2016) which Bon Iver released their new album, "22, A Million." Several people in my circle have been waiting with eager anticipation for this album to come out, so there was already lots of hype regarding its release.
So, my peers and I listened to it in arguably the best manner we possibly could. Courtesy of the organization of one of our professors, my peers and I gathered together on a Friday night, at an academic table to collectively listen to the entire album from start to finish. The album is only about 30 minutes long, so we spent the rest of the time replaying individual parts of certain songs and discussing the meaning of the album as a whole. We took great care in analyzing the lyrics of each song, and even spent several minutes looking at the album’s cover art.
This article is not a review of Bon Iver’s new album. I’m not here to tell you how wonderful it is or how much it changed my life — mostly because my opinion of it remains underdeveloped. I do really like this album, but that’s not what I’m here to tell you.
What I’m here to tell you is that the act of listening to music in a communal setting is a very underrated gift. How often do you get the chance to just sit peacefully and really, truly listen to an album from start to finish without getting distracted? And how often do you get to do that in the midst of people who are doing the same thing? And how often do you get to discuss the artistic meaning of the music with those people?
The answer is not enough. Our culture tends to treat music, especially recorded music, as an individualist activity rather than a participatory one. We seldom get the chance to just sit and listen to music for exactly what it is. Instead, we tend to treat it somewhat like background noise while we do something else more productive. And that is so wrong.
Music is an art form! It doesn’t have to be a grandiose, classical concert in order to be a work of art. We should be treating all music like the creative gift that it really is by taking the time to appreciate the artistic intention behind its creation. Sure, music is entertaining and is a wonderful thing to have as the soundtrack of your life. But it’s also an attempt at art that someone put a lot of effort into creating for you to listen to.
So, reader, I encourage you to challenge yourself by listening to one whole album by your favorite band or artist from start to finish. Don’t do anything but listen. Don’t do homework, don’t write emails, don’t surf social media. Nothing. Just sit. Listen. Hear what it is the artist is trying to convey. I promise you that there will new things to gain from any album by listening to it on its own with a humble and contemplative mindset — even if you’ve already heard it a hundred times by other means.
I’m so honored to have spent my Friday night this way. I hope that you too get to experience what it’s like to communally witness beauty in art and collectively appreciate someone else’s creative endeavors.