By Anh Ta
On Feb. 3, the Lawrence University Unitarian Universalists (LUUU) and junior Susannah Miller presented Lawrentians with the rare chance to experience Sonic Meditations. Conservatory students and faculty may be familiar with this type of meditation; however, to the rest of the university, not many have heard of it or understand its benefits which go beyond the musical sphere.
The Sonic Meditations presenter, Susannah Miller, was enthusiastic to share her first experience with Sonic Meditations on a study-abroad trip to India.
“It was a very Lawrentian moment,” Miller said. “We walked to a Buddhist cave and picked up the sounds around us, […] the sound of the rain and the sound of people who were trying to sell us things. When we got to the cave, we sat down and started meditating. One person then picked a note and sang, and the others could join in when they felt like it. As I sang the note that I liked, I listened and when I heard the notes that I like, I could sing that. So it introduced new sounds but also harmonized with all the sounds around us.”
Sonic Meditations are a series of group sound improvisations, composed in the spirit of the Deep Listening method. Pioneered by composer Pauline Oliveros, this approach has gained a lot of interest in the Conservatory, as it helps participants listen actively and respond to the sounds around them. Dean of the Conservatory Brian Pertl was excited to share the integration of Deep Listening into the Conservatory’s curriculum.
“Sonic Meditations… help participants become better listeners and contributors,” said Pertl. “We use Deep Listening and Sonic Meditations in the Entrepreneurial Musician class, music education classes, some of our ethnomusicology offerings, some composition classes, IGLU and the new D-Term Deep Listening Intensive taught by Leila Pertl and me.”
With a focus on active listening and responding, Deep Listening and Sonic Meditations are not only helpful for musicians, but also for non-musicians. In everyday life context, one can learn to be more attentive and aware of the surroundings and relieve some stress.
According to Dean Pertl, the benefits of this method are far-reaching. “Deep Listening can focus the mind, reduce the stress and brain clutter, and help get you to a space where your creative spirit can dance.”
Deep Listening can renew and transform the ways we see and experience the world. With a much greater appreciation for her surroundings, Miller emphasized her key learning point from Sonic Meditations.
“Every sound can be music,” said Miller. “It taught me that music did not have to happen in a specific time and place, or with an instrument. The sound of the rain, or the sound of someone slipping into a puddle is as legitimate as any other sound.”
Based on the positive reception during the session on Feb. 3, Miller is also excited to continue Sonic Meditations on a more regular basis, not necessarily as a formal club on campus but in a more informal gathering setting.
“It is great fun,” said Miller. “You get to make a kind of music that does not require expertise. It is interesting to be a part of something and see the changes you make. It is a micro ecosystem of sounds.”
Students can look forward to experiencing this very unique approach of Deep Listening in these future sessions, but in the meantime, we can experience it in our own way, by keeping our ears open to our surroundings.