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Cindy L. Freeman – Music or No Music? 4/26/19

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My husband, Carl, finds it strange that I don’t listen to music as a pastime, especially since I’ve been a musician my whole life. He fills every waking moment with music playing in the background while I prefer silence, especially when I’m writing.

Carl doesn’t understand why I don’t enjoy listening to music, and I can’t comprehend how he functions with constant auditory stimulation in the environment. Now that we’re retired and spending much time at home together, we’ve had to compromise on this diametrically opposed preference.

As a former educator, I’ve been curious about this phenomenon, wondering if it is related to individual learning styles, right-brain/left-brain functions or simply long-established habits. Carl claims he’s more productive when his “tunes” are playing. Yet, he doesn’t seem to notice what he’s listening to. For him, music acts as white noise blocking out other sounds that he might find distracting.

For me, music—particularly if it’s music I like—absorbs my full attention, making it hard for me to carry on a conversation or accomplish a task that requires concentration. For example, when we are cooking together, Carl likes to have music blaring in the kitchen, whether classical, blues, ’60s rock ’n roll or Celtic. I, on the other hand, find it difficult to attend to the recipe directions because I start analyzing chord progressions, musical form, orchestrations, and meter. If it is choral music—my favorite—I become positively useless as a sous chef.

When I was a Musikgarten teacher, one of the most important skills I taught my students was to be active listeners. I encouraged them to pay attention to the elements of music as they listened. Before playing a musical example, whether live or recorded, I would suggest something specific for the students’ focus, like a repeating melodic motif or rhythmic pattern. I might ask them to identify an instrument or the family of instruments or listen for the form of a piece, devising a characteristic movement for each section. I taught them conducting patterns to help them determine the meter. But the most effective means of response was through free movement, when they were encouraged to use their whole bodies. After they moved in response to the music, the children were able to identify whether it was quick or slow, light or strong, loud or quiet, smooth or jerky. With this method, they could relate to musical terms like legato/staccato, forte/piano, allegro/presto and others so that even four-year-old children connected with the concepts in a functional way.

I enjoy performing music, and I appreciate live concerts where I can focus on the musicians, instruments, and compositions, but I find background music to be an unwelcome distraction to my thoughts and an interruption of my tasks.

Carl’s premise is that because he doesn’t know enough about music theory to indulge the technical aspects of music, he simply lets it happen without analyzing why he likes or dislikes it. He compares it to my disinterest in science fiction, one of his favorite subjects. Since I’m not a scientist, I don’t understand enough about the technical aspects of spaceships, orbital mechanics, astrophysics, and quantum mechanics to know what’s real and what’s fiction. To me, one rocket launch looks the same as any other rocket launch.

It would make an interesting study for someone to research. As for me, I require silence for my right brain to be productive. Thankfully, Carl’s office has a door I can close.

Cindy L. Freeman is the author of two award-winning short stories and three published novels: UnrevealedThe Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Website:; Facebook page: Her books are available through or

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