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Communing with Music: Practicing the Art of Conscious Listening.

Communing with Music: Practicing the Art of Conscious Listening, by Matthew Cantello. DeVross Publications (DeVross & Company (553 Constitution Ave., Camarillo, CA 93012), 2004. 180 pp. $15.95.

In the hours and days following my mother's death decades ago, I remember being startled by passages of music playing in my head over and over--from the second movement of Brahm's Third Symphony. It took me a while to figure out that was how one part of myself helped another part to cope and, ultimately, heal. I should not have been so surprised, because, in retrospect, it was not the first time I had used music as part of my personal restorative process.

Matthew Cantello's book deals with this subject. His premise is that art music has healing power and also can be used to foster spiritual growth. He states that in modern society, music's role has been largely relegated to either entertainment or background function, causing a large sector of the population to be unaware of music's greater powers. Although the book's most sweeping ideas might interest professional musicians and teachers, the majority of its content seems to be directed at the layman's level, such as leisure adult students, casual concert-goers or collegiate music appreciation classes.

Besides exploring the power of music, the book suggests how to listen to music in ways that promote transcendental experiences. One part focuses on listening more actively and the other on "communing" with music: "... the moments where we seek to become one with, and therefore be transformed by, musical sound."

Much of the reading beckons the right brain, but there also are suggestions and exercises to help the left brain achieve these higher states. The chapter about developing musical sensitivity focuses on how to better perceive various musical aspects: tone, melody, harmony, rhythm and so forth. Three kinds of communing techniques are presented: perception of musical relationships, use of imagery and physical response to music. There also is an insightful chapter relating to how recorded music is different than live music and how a listener can compensate for those differences.

Cantello's discussion on receptivity highlights an observation many independent music teachers wish could be passed on to some of our students' families: "Rushing around from one event or task to the next can make it difficult to be receptive to anything, let alone music."

In my opinion, the most distinctive contribution of the book is its appendix: a thirteen-page list of pieces categorized by emotional and spiritual content. The repertoire is drawn mainly from the twentieth and late-nineteenth century, but not exclusively. There is one glaring omission: not a single movement of Mozart is mentioned. The category labels themselves are compelling: Compassion and Redemption, Love and Warmth, Longing and Sorrow (the section where I found the above-mentioned Brahms Symphony movement listed!), Vitality and Exuberance, Mystery and the Exotic and so on.

This book is ambitious and is permeated with fresh viewpoints on everyday events and issues, but it falls short in a few areas. It is strong on generalities, but needs more specifics. Many of the suggestions for how to listen to music may not be well understood by a self-help readership without further (and perhaps extensive) clarification by a teacher or clinician. (The author's bio mentions that he presents workshops on this topic.) This is especially true in the sections on imagery and kinetics. Also, the book's tone in several places could be perceived as patronizing. He assumes there are not many people who get carried away emotionally while listening to music: "This is a very special trait, one that tends to be rarely seen, even in music circles." A minor annoyance in the writing is the persistent use of "we" when he means 'I' or "you, the reader."

Despite these problems, the book evokes thought. I hope the author expands the categorized list of music in the appendix--it makes for a unique and useful springboard to explore our beloved repertoire. Reviewed by Bruce Berr, Glenview, Illinois.
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Author:Berr, Bruce
Publication:American Music Teacher
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 2005
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