Creating a Culture of Listening: Exploring Conscious Listening Workshops with Steinway Artist Hsing-ay Hsu
As Published in the Associated Chamber Music Players Blog - March 9, 2023
By Hsing-ay Hsu
Part 1: The Vision
Imagine a world where we are multidimensionally connected to ourselves and others, open-minded about what we don’t understand, and intentional about how we fit into the big picture. We can build that culture of listening by becoming aware of how we listen to others and consistently practicing our quality of listening, along with helping others practice as well. The art of listening is at risk of fading away in our society. Our addiction to visual stimulation and sensory overload has left little room for quality listening. In education, the focus on measuring the quantity of memorized knowledge is squeezing out any time to reflect and integrate large concept principles. As a result, we struggle as a nation to understand, engage in, and digest meaningful conversations about complex issues. Effective communication is fundamental to maintaining a society, and listening skills are its basic building blocks.
Fortunately, music provides us with a safe and abstract playground to explore ideas and practice creative thinking and collaboration. A culture that values and nurtures listening skills creates an environment of empathy, trust, and respect, where diverse opinions and ideas can be shared and appreciated. By practicing the art of listening, we not only enhance our own wellness and our innate need to communicate, but make possible the emergence of a more civilized society.
Part 2: The Journey
Conscious ListeningTM is the term I use to describe my multidimensional approach to music. Over the past 14 years, I have created listening workshops alongside my performing and piano teaching activities to help music lovers engage more deeply with life through music. These workshops provide guided listening practice to savor beauty, imagination, musical elements, emotions, colors, space, and connections. This conscious act of taking joy in listening to art music can potentially transform our powers of listening, enhance our health, find personal meaning, and access our creative mode so that we can engage fully in life.
When the pandemic started, I brought my Conscious ListeningTM Cafés online via Zoom to create a consistent community for my studio of adult students and music appreciation class participants. My goal is to take our listening skills beyond knowledge-based information sessions where they would own their listening experience and engage wholeheartedly. There have been moments of unexpected tears, surprise revelations, courteous disagreements, and collective empathy. Our diverse group of concert music lovers identify as lifelong learners, music teachers, amateur musicians, audience members, students, parents, visual artists, writers, creative thinkers, good listeners.
Part 3: The Approach
My Conscious ListeningTM method is based on 3 ideas:
1. Striving for a quality of listening through a four-step listening process, which is a cultivated skill and a long-term practice.
2. Focusing on one thread of a specific element within a limited period of time to hear all the elements and how they work together to create the whole and how it relates to us personally.
3. Engaging in an interactive listening practice that starts with the audience’s perceptions and then links them to the bigger context, unlike music appreciation classes or program notes that limit discussions to historical and biographical facts.
Part 4: The Methodology
The “Conscious ListeningTM four-step listening process” includes describing the elements of the performance, focusing on a specific element, responding to what you hear with your emotions and memories, and breathing with the phrasing. Over time, the audience starts to engage on three levels of listening, which involve surface details, organization, and deep integration.
Part 5: The Invitation
Join me online for Conscious ListeningTM Cafés every fourth Saturday from January to October, or in person at various workshops. No music degree is needed, only a love for concert music and the desire to practice listening. Upcoming chamber music related events include:
Conscious Listening™ Café (registration required)
NYC Chamber music masterclass
Orchestral Colors of the Piano Intensive
Sign up for Hsing-ay’s newsletter
YouTube with Geraldine Walther (Takacs Quartet)
YouTube of recent masterclass excerpt
Subscribe to Hsing-ay’s YouTube channel
About Hsing-ay Hsu
Steinway Artist Hsing-ay Hsu (“Sing-I Shoo”) has performed at prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center NYC, and infuses her experience as an international prizewinner, concert producer, adjudicator, in her work as teacher, educator, and owner of Nutmeg Studio NYC. Born in Beijing, she trained at Juilliard, Yale University, Ravinia Steans Institute and was a student and guest artist at the Aspen and the Tanglewood Music Festivals. Currently on the summer faculty of Rocky Ridge and Chautauqua Institute Special Courses adult programs, Hsing-ay was a faculty member at the University of Colorado for 14 years before recently returning to New York, where her teaching activities include chamber music coaching for Special Music School and Lucy Moses School at the Kaufman Center. She accidentally became a passionate teacher to adults at the age of 14, when a stranger overheard her practicing and asked her to give lessons. Hsing-ay shares the power of music through giving unique concerts, lessons, YouTube videos, and Conscious Listening™ seminars to access the creative mode, listen consciously, and make sense of the multidimensional human experience. Visit www.hsingayhsu.com for more information.