I chose my seat at the Philip Glass concert in Galway very carefully. I like to see the hands of a piano player when I’m listening to them. It can fill in the dry stretches in a concert, if there are any.
A gentleman arrived with his date and asked me would I mind moving, so they could have two seats together – there were only two separate seats left, one of which was beside me. I had to explain that I couldn’t move, that I had chosen the seat for a particular purpose. He understood, was intrigued even, sat beside me, and began to talk piano. She sat elsewhere, slightly dismayed.
Having ruined their date, I was glad I didn’t ruin his enjoyment. Emphatic in his applause throughout, his hands raised above his head after each performance, I began to realize he was one of my favourite type of people in the world: a good listener.
By ‘good listener’, I don’t mean that he was terribly knowledgeable about the music, or even that discerning, but rather he was the type of listener who loves the act of performance regardless, who is amazed by what musicians do, who seems to simply trust them. Whatever they come up with, he will respect, he will encourage, he will praise, he will try and understand, he will often think it’s beyond him because he doesn’t play himself, but that’s OK, because he feels that that connection between audience and musician is, well, that’s living.
Because such listeners do not coolly criticize and pick holes in a performance, they are often dismissed as naive, not taken seriously, but I don’t know what we would do without them. Whether they are giving the most modest of events a sense of occasion, or making informal musical performance happen by providing a welcoming environment for musicians or singers, or drawing other less willing listeners in with their enthusiasm, they are often the oil of our musical life.
In all the conversations I had after the Philip Glass concert, all with musicians and singers, the droll musical dissection of the event was unavoidable. With an artist so celebrated, so successful, and yet who raises many questions, that is inevitable. But, now and then, to leave a concert with that listener and just say, ‘Wow, wasn’t that great!’, and leave it at that, I could live with that too.