Joy in invisible world

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 February, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 February, 1993, 12:00am

DO you like watching horror movies but get so scared you cannot bear to look? Next time, if you are watching it on television or video, turn off the sound; you will probably find it not so frightening after all, maybe some things will look even rather ridiculous.

The picture of a vampire poised in the act of digging its fangs into a victim will not seem quite as menacing if there is no accompaniment of shrieking violins or other sinister sounds.

The world of musical sounds is invisible, but it has tremendous power in evoking emotions. Responding to music is the most natural thing in the world, judging from the number of people who sing, dance, tap, nod or whistle.

However, there is a difference between listening perceptively to a musical work and merely hearing it. For example, we hear birds singing, but we must listen more carefully if we want to recognise their songs and calls.

Musicians need to be highly sensitive listeners. Composers are sensitive to the sounds in their heads and try to be re-create them by notating them on paper. Performers also need to be sensitive to the sounds they make.

Thus, within a music student's course of studies there is a subject called aural perception, or ear-training, which is aimed at increasing and refining the student's listening skills and musical awareness.

To enjoy the splendour of that invisible world, one needs only the inclination and the concentration. Nowadays, what with radio, television, compact discs, and laser videos, the vast treasury of music is available at the push of a button.

But our ears can be so bombarded that it ends up inadvertently dulling people's sensitivity to pick up even the most banal ''muzak'' tunes coming out of the loudspeakers in department stores.

Some listen not so much to the music as to the way it is performed _ for example pianists listening to other pianists' recordings. Some listen to how a piece is put together, others dream in the sensuous beauty of sounds.

From example, you may have heard Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite during a music lesson and you liked the music. Borrow, or better still, buy a CD and listen to it again. See if you recognise the different instruments, or the tunes which are repeated.

Find out what is a suite. Listen to a suite by another composer. Attend a concert in which another work by Tchaikovsky will be played. Do you find it similar in sound or different? How different? Who were Tchaikovsky's contemporaries? Perhaps you mightlike their music as well.

Ms Margaret Lynn is Director of Studies and Assistant Dean, School of Music, Hongkong APA