Another Perspective: Rediscovering Recreational Listening through Music Listening Clubs

By NAfME Member Lisa D. Martin 

This article first appeared in the December 2023 issue of Music Educators Journal. 

It was not long into my career as a music educator that I noticed a considerable drop in my own recreational music listening. The soundscape of my daily work life was often chaotic, and after a long day of musicking with my students, I needed quiet to recalibrate and recenter for just about any subsequent task or interaction. When I did listen to music, it was usually to select repertoire for the next performance or to review recordings from rehearsal in order to make a game plan. And while I certainly enjoyed my work, the experience of listening to music for pure enjoyment seemed to be slipping away from my routine. In reflecting on this sense of loss with my peers in the field, I learned my experience was shared by others.

Any wisp of recreational music listening was typically an accompaniment to an activity or task rather than the main event. Moreover, I—like many—fell prey to “skip culture,” taking in music in microdoses that complemented my increasingly flighty attention span. Rarely did I listen to a full track from start to finish, never mind a whole album. Through all this, I felt my musical world narrow.

This changed dramatically around seven years ago, when a few of my colleagues invited me to join a recreational music listening club. The group, affectionately named the Open Mind Record Grind, meets once monthly in the basement of one of its 12 or so members. At these listening sessions, each member of the group brings a few tunes to play. Sometimes tracks adhere to predetermined themes, such as tunes about trains or clever cover songs (see Table 1), while at other times, the group embraces an “anything goes” approach. Each member takes turns spinning a tune, sharing the story behind their connection with or interest in the song. Once the track is on, the group listens quietly, intently. After everyone has a turn sharing a song, the cycle repeats, and we each dig deeper into our personal libraries. For three sacred hours, there are no side conversations, there are no cell phones out—just immersion in the sound.

Table 1 Sample of Tracks from Music Listening Club Meeting with Theme “Songs about Work”
Artist Track Album Year
John Greenway “The Great American Bum” The Great American Bum 1955
Tennessee Ernie Ford “Sixteen Tons” Vintage Collection 1955
Bobby G “No More Picking Cotton” Ph.D. in the Blues 2018
They Might Be Giants “Seven Days of the Week” Here Come the 123s 2008
Lead Belly “Pick a Bale of Cotton” The Smithsonian Folkways Collection 2015
Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band “Turn the Page” Live Bullet 1976
Odetta “John Henry” Odetta at Carnegie Hall 1942
The Fugs “Working for the Yankee Dollar” No More Slavery 1985
John Lennon “Working Class Hero” John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band 1970

 

The experience, in a word, feels essential. Through it, I have been exposed to genres and artists I might not have ever otherwise come across. And the process of selecting tunes to bring each month has me listening more on my own, as well. There is a spirit of giving behind each of the musical selections, whereby members of the group deeply consider the type of experience they hope others have as a result of listening to the tunes they share. The spirit of giving is also reflected in how group members feel a sense of responsibility toward supporting emerging and lesser-known artists. Indeed, the camaraderie that emerges from this musical fellowship goes beyond the once-monthly gatherings, with members often going to local shows together to check out whatever artist is passing through the area.

friends sharing vinyl records at home

Photo: Caia Image / Collection Mix: Subjects via Getty Images

While we live in a world of satellite radio and algorithms galore, there is something unique about coming upon a new piece of music through this format. In speaking with one of my fellow group members, he shared, “It’s getting to experience new music that you might not have heard before, and it’s not filtered by the media or some radio DJ. It’s filtered by your friends. Pandora isn’t picking it for you. Your friends are.” Another member went on to say, “Spotify recommendations . . . aren’t the same thing as a curator—somebody who has experienced this stuff firsthand—presenting it, setting the scene.”

The group, which has been meeting since 2012, has now played close to 3,000 tracks over the years. Initially, the founding members were inspired by Classic Album Sundays, a movement founded in Great Britain by Massachusetts-born radio DJ Colleen “Cosmo” Murphy. The once-monthly format similarly celebrates an intentional recreational listening experience but instead focuses on entire classic albums, played from start to finish, without a pause. Murphy’s rule was “Everyone, stop multi-tasking, sit down, open your ears and do some heavy listening.”1 The Classic Album Sunday movement has since gained traction around the world.

Perhaps one avenue toward rediscovering recreational music listening is through bridging our musical world with our social world. Quite economically, all that is needed to engage in a music listening club is a common time and a way to play the tunes, and with the convenience of videoconferencing, such clubs are not limited by geography. There are infinite ways to approach this type of effort, and a quick search on Reddit or Google will yield a range of creative takes. For example, some clubs might focus on a single album and then meet to discuss the tracks, while other clubs might dedicate their listening to a specific genre.

“The added benefits of social connection, exposure to new ideas, and the experience of common intention in a shared space all make music listening clubs well worthy of exploration.”

Even for those of us who already enjoy robust recreational listening on our own, the added benefits of social connection, exposure to new ideas, and the experience of common intention in a shared space all make music listening clubs well worthy of exploration. In the meantime, the Open Mind Record Grind will soon be celebrating its 100th meeting of musical minds.

If you like the ideas shared here, you might find that they represent only some of the many ways to connect through music, and music listening communities are a matchless experience. Start with just one friend or colleague and build from there. It may change your perspective and deepen your joy in listening to music in a focused manner, just as it did for me.

Footnote
  1. David Sillito, “Are Record Clubs the New Book Clubs?,” BBC News, January 18, 2011.

About the author:

Lisa D. Martin headshotLisa Martin (martlis@bgsu.edu) is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Music Education at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. She also serves as the Orchestra Manager for the Contemporary Youth Orchestra of Cleveland.

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The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

April 2024 Teaching Music

Published Date

May 14, 2024

Category

  • Lifelong Learning
  • Music Education Profession
  • Teacher Self Care

Copyright

May 14, 2024. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)

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