Listening and Rediscovering Everything Around You – Kalevi Aho

Some four years ago, I started with an experiment on empathic listening that has led me to walk down unexpected paths. My intention was to see the effect music could have on the brain and check if you can enhance your empathic listening to people by listening to music. I must confess that failing at getting some “guinea pigs”, the only subject of my experiment was muggins here. In other words, I myself played the guinea pig, and this may make the result even more subjective and, therefore, lacking the scientific rigor that characterizes a lab experiment in which a lot of subjects take part. Notwithstanding, since half a loaf is better than none, I preferred to take the risk and get a knock rather than loafing about.

At first, my experiment was limited to listening, over a period of nine months, to the two books of “The Well Tempered Clavier” by Johann Sebastian Bach and the 32 piano sonatas and nine symphonies by Ludwig van Beethoven. It was something relatively easy in principle: a month dedicated to each symphony, a piano sonata per week and some two preludes and fugues per week. The point is that when you want to fathom things, you start connecting the dots and then one thing leads you to a different one. So much so, that the experiment in question led me to dramatically expand my music collection and to listen to music I had never thought I would end up listening to. Music from the 8th to the 21st centuries. Over these four year period, I must have spent around 3,000 hours listening to music deliberately. And the more music I listen to, the more it remains to be listened. So, I am just content to enjoy what I listen to and forget about everything I will never be able to listen because my lifespan is limited.

In the last two weeks I took to listening to music by a composer I had heard of a couple of times in the past. But I had never listened to any of his works. I am talking about the danish composer Carl Nielsen (1865-1931). So, I decided to buy — yes, I am one of those people who still buy music — the complete DACAPO edition of Nielsen’s symphonies and the clarinet, flute and violin concertos performed by the New York Philharmonic conducted by Alan Gilbert with soloists Nikolaj Znaider (violin), Robert Langevin (flute) and Anthony McGill (clarinet). I listen to each of the six symphonies twice and to each concerto once. It opened a relatively new world of symphonic sonorities. Although I recognise the quality of these works and the excellent performance of the musicians, however, for some reason, I just didn’t quite connect with Carl Nielsen’s music, despite he is one of the greatest symphonists in music history. That made me try and find out about new sound fields I could explore. Lo and behold, a new name appeared, a name completely unknown for me until a few days ago: Kalevi Aho.

alevi Aho, (2008). Painting by Tuomas Vesala.

Kalevi Aho. Painting by Tuomas Vesala.

Kalevi Aho is a very prolific Finnish composer born in 1949. He has written 16 symphonies to date and, over a three day marathon season, I have chronologically listened to each symphony once. I must say that I have discovered a new language with which I have connected from the very beginning. What is it that really makes us connect with things even though we do not fully understand them? None of Aho’s symphonies has ceased to amazed me. That is why I dare to say his music will endure in time. For anyone who is interested, the music label BIS publishes Aho’s music. The only three symphonies which are not recorded for BIS at the time I am writing these lines are No. 5 (I recommend the recording on Finlandia Records: Meet the Composer), No. 6 (you can find a poor quality audio version of this symphony on Youtube though) and No. 16 (on Youtube and with really good quality!).

My discovery of Kalevi Aho has helped me confirm that there is always something new to be discovered and to connect with. This new “something” makes you see what you already know from a different perspective. In other words, it makes you rediscover the known with the enthusiasm of a child who sees, hears and feels something for the first time. In my case, music is the vehicle for personal development. Some other people may connect with painting, sports, dancing…

I do not know if my ability to empathically listen to others has increased over these last four years. But no wonder my ability to venture new sound worlds and to open myself to the unkown has certainly increased. Who knows! Maybe someday there is even someone who analyses my brain and discovers that, indeed, all those hours of listening had their effect on my brain structure and on the way my neurons connect with each other. In the end, living may be rediscovering our reality over and over again, it may be establishing a continuous and changing synapsis with everything around us.

Michael Thallium

Global & Greatness Coach
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