Friday, 21 December 2012

Simply listen

When Wagner chose to open his opera Tristan and Isolde with a phrase that refused to resolve in the way that listeners’ expected he caused immediate disbelief and non – comprehension, quickly followed by frustration and even in some instances anger. At first these reactions seem out of proportion to the musical ‘offence’ caused, but when we take the human need for resolution into account perhaps they are a little easier to understand.

As a species we tend to assume instinctively that the problems and difficulties life throws at us can be solved. We believe that if we think creatively, have a willingness to do things differently and work long and hard enough we will be able to overcome almost any problem.

But the unique dissonance of the Tristan Chord questions this assumption. In one magnified, tortuous instant of sound it captures the emotional essence of a problem that has no easy solution. Tristan and Isolde love each other. Isolde is promised to and marries the king. Tristan is a trusted friend of the king. Do they betray their love for each other or do they betray their king? Not an easy situation to resolve!

Significantly, the Tristan Chord is one of the most analysed in the history of music (A quick web search will confirm this point!). People scrutinise it over and over again, looking for an effective and logical resolution to its tense ambiguity. It is almost as if the chord’s paradoxically transient but also suspenseful quality fixates many of those that hear it.

Perhaps a more fruitful way to appreciate the Tristan Chord is to live within its moment. We could cease trying to resolve it and start simply listening. We could begin to notice the feelings and intuitive responses we have to the music. We may then experience more clearly the power of the emotional insight contained within a single moment of sound.

The next time you are challenged by a difficult problem that refuses to be resolved stop battling against it. Accept its presence; sink into and explore it; become part of it; feel it from the inside out. The intuitive insights you gain may enhance your ability to manage its consequences. You may even find ways to turn them to your advantage.

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