Musicking – conversing – writing: towards a cultural perspective on music listening in eighteenth-century Britain

Ina Knoth

Ina Knoth is a postdoctoral lecturer at Hamburg University working on a book project on music listening in England, c. 1670–1750. She studied musicology in Weimar, as well as English literature and economics in Jena. As a recipient of a Georg Christoph Lichtenberg scholarship she finished her dissertation on Paul Hindemith’s ‘Harmonie der Welt’ in Oldenburg in 2014. She has published on Hindemith, English music culture around 1700, as well as on the history and sociology of German musicology.


The listening sense is the predominant but not the only sense with the help of which musicians as well as all kinds of ‘bystanders’ experience music. However, sensual perception doesn’t leave an easy trace for historians. The task of tracking transformations from listening experiences to their written testimonies is a challenge which has to be revisited within any individual cultural frame. In this context, English accounts of music listening from the first half of the eighteenth century are particularly demanding due to their brevity. This chapter reflects on this challenge and proposes new solutions for how to read these accounts. Following methodological approaches by Christopher Small (‘musicking’) to overcome traditional lines between ‘the performer’ and ‘the listener’, as well as reflecting on tacit sensual knowledge, it outlines ways to understand music listening in Britain in the eighteenth century. 1[1] This work was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).


‘I believe, dear madam, you will be tired of my account of music, which does not describe so well as it sounds.’ 2[2] Letter 12 April 1735, in Mary Delany, <em>The Autobiography and Correspondence of Mary Granville</em>, <em>Mrs. Delany</em>, vol. 1, ed. Lady Llanover (London: Richard Bentley, 1861), pp. 533–534. These words by Mary Pendarves (later Delany), 3[3] Mary Granville, born in 1700, married Alexander Pendarves in 1718. Her husband died in 1725. In 1743, she married the Irish clergyman Dr Patrick Delany and later became best known as Mary Delany for her work with paper-cut flowers and in musicology as a loyal Handel supporter. Since all the quotations from her letters in this chapter are from the time before her second marriage, I will stick to the historically correct name Mary Pendarves. addressed to her mother in 1735, point to a familiar problem when dealing with testimonies of music listening: how is it possible to transform aural impressions into language? At the same time, written accounts are succinct summaries of sensual experiences and therefore a central source for music listening history, as the Listening Experience Database (LED) project justly points out. However, these testimonies need to be ‘decoded’. While it is obvious that any such account has to be evaluated based on its ideological premises and the type of writing (private letter, official report, personal diary, and so on), descriptions of music listening experiences in British diaries and letters from the first half of the eighteenth century present a further and severe challenge: namely, their brevity. Often, these descriptions are restricted to the date of the event, names of performers and composers and a succinct judgement such as ‘very good’, ‘charming’ or ‘poorly performed’. At first sight they seem to be formulaic and can be discouraging to work with in order to uncover modes of listening or even listening experiences. 4[4] See William Weber, ‘Did People Listen in the 18th Century?’, <em>Early Music </em>25(4), 1997, p. 683. This problem was also addressed in the 2017 LED proceedings, by Helen Barlow and David Rowland (eds), <em>Listening to music: people, practices and experiences </em>(Milton Keynes: The Open University, 2017), <a href=""></a>, accessed 13 August 2018. In this publication see David Rowland’s ‘Introduction’, as well as the contributions on seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England, which were concerned with rare exceptions to the rule: Janine Wiesecke, ‘Samuel Pepys and his experiences of music at Restoration theatres’ and Donald Burrows, ‘Eighteenth-Century musical listeners as revealed in the papers of James Harris’. In my chapter, I will propose a method for reading them as worthwhile sources for a cultural history of music listening in Britain in the eighteenth century. Tracing the three practices named in my title – namely musicking, conversing, and writing – I will point out interrelations between the focus of sensual attention during listening situations and the written word of personal accounts in diaries and letters.

Music listening – a joint venture of the senses

Music listening has gained a lot of attention in historical studies over the last decades. It has become common to treat ‘music listening’ as a general term not only focusing on strictly physiological listening, but also on the perception of, for instance, musical performances in their multisensory dimension. 5[5] The most prominent influences were presented by performance studies; see, for example, Erika Fischer-Lichte and Christopf Wulf (eds), <em>Theorien des Performativen</em> (Berlin: Akad.-Verlag, 2001). Furthermore, music listening has become understood as a practice highly defined by its social context. 6[6] See from the seminal work by James Johnson, <em>Listening in Paris. A Cultural History</em> (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995) to the spectrum of papers in a major, as yet unpublished conference in Berlin, ‘The Art of Listening. Trends und Perspektiven einer Geschichte des Musikhörens’, 12–14 July 2012, Radialsystem V Berlin. Taking this general definition of music listening as my starting point, I will focus on the interplay of the senses during listening processes, as described or at least hinted at in personal accounts.

Regarding the interplay of the senses, the cultural historian is faced with a complicated mixture of relevant phenomenological as well as cultural information which needs to be taken into account. For example, Walter J. Ong’s appeal ‘to think of cultures in terms of the organization of the sensorium’ 7[7] Walter J. Ong, <em>The Presence of the World. Some Prolegomena for Cultural and Religious History</em> (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1967), p. 6. is based on the human mechanism which filters the innumerable impressions a certain experience makes on all senses. This mostly unconscious selection decides which stimuli on which senses are most consciously felt and is highly preconditioned by cultural standards – a finding which has gained ample scholarly attention and various means of methodological application. 8[8] See various publications and collections by David Howes, most recently David Howes (ed.), <em>Empire of the Senses. The Sensual Culture Reader</em> (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014); for further studies see, for example, Constance Classen, <em>Worlds of Sense. Exploring the Senses in History and across Cultures</em> (London: Routledge, 1993); Linda Phyllis Austern (ed.), <em>Music, Sensation, and Sensuality</em> (London: Routledge, 2002); C. M. Woolgar, <em>The Senses in Late Medieval England</em> (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006); Anne C. Vila (ed.), <em>A Cultural History of the Senses in the Age of Enlightenment</em> (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014); Jochen Bonz, <em>Alltagsklänge. Einsätze einer Kulturanthropologie des Hörens</em> (Wiesbaden: Springer, 2015). On a very basic level, Ong as well as many others has concentrated on the shift from the dominance of the hearing sense to the visual sense in the Age of Enlightenment. 9[9] See Marshall McLuhan, <em>The Gutenberg Galaxy. The Making of Typographic Man</em> (London: Routledge & Paul, 1962); Walter J. Ong, <em>Orality and Literacy. The Technologizing of the Word</em> (London: Methuen, 1982); Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, <em>The Printing Press as an Agent of Change. Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early-Modern Europe</em> (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). This shift is basically argued on the notion that words as the central media of knowledge communication were transferred mainly orally – as sound – up to the late Middle Ages, but that the invention of the press and the increase of literacy in the seventeenth century made reading information – understanding information through the more restricted and partial sense of sight – more important to education. Especially in works on intellectual history, these studies have contributed to a broad consensus regarding the hegemony of vision within Modernity. 10[10] For an overview see, for example, David Michael Levin (ed.), <em>Modernity and the Hegemony of Vision</em> (Berkeley et al., University of California Press, 1993, reprint 2008); Lorraine Daston and Elizabeth Lunbeck (eds), <em>Histories of Scientific Observation</em> (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2011).

As Lawrence Sterne has pointed out, however, this does not negate the importance of the audible within Modernity but rather that it led to its disregard in scholarly work. 11[11] Lawrence Sterne, <em>The Audible Past. Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction</em> (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2003). To address this problem, the definition of ‘knowledge’ has been notably elevated from its former scholarly restriction to intellectual knowledge. In cultural studies, definitions of ‘knowledge’ include all imaginable ways of how to do or understand things – through all senses. In this context, different scholars have pointed out how aural knowledge, defined as knowledge of how to listen to music, 12[12] There are two basic definitions of aural knowledge (‘Hör-Wissen’). On the one hand, it can mean knowledge imparted through listening. On the other hand, it can be defined as knowledge of how to listen; see Daniel Morat, Viktoria Tkaczyk and Hansjakob Ziemer, ‘Einleitung’, in Netzwerk ‘Hör-Wissen im Wandel’ (ed.), <em>Wissensgeschichte des Hörens in der Moderne</em> (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2017), p. 2. Only the second definition is of importance to this chapter. is practised – as for instance in the way in which the beau monde of the eighteenth century listened to music sufficiently frequently to develop a routine – but largely remains inarticulate and can therefore be regarded as a form of tacit knowledge. 13[13] For an overview on aural knowledge see Netzwerk ‘Hör-Wissen im Wandel’ (ed.). <em>Wissensgeschichte des Hörens in der Moderne</em> (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2017). On tacit knowledge see Michael Polanyi, <em>The Tacit Dimension</em> (New York: Doubleday, 1966); Harry Collins, <em>Tacit and Explicit Knowledge</em> (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), further explained in Harry Collins, ‘Drei Arten impliziten Wissens’, in Jens Loenhoff (ed.), <em>Implizites Wissen. Epistemologische und handlungstheoretische Perspektiven</em> (Weilerswist: Velbrück, 2012); Ulrich Mosch, ‘Hörwissen als implizites Wissen. Anmerkungen zu einer aktuellen philosophischen Diskussion’ in <em>Positionen. Texte zur aktuellen Musik</em> 105 (2015).

Furthermore, some methods have been developed to study these forms of tacit knowledge and make them explicit to a certain extent. For example, Richard Sennett, among others, underlines the importance of the body for all kinds of tacit learning and skills. 14[14] Richard Sennett, <em>The Craftsman</em> (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008); Sophia Prinz and Hanna Katharina Göbel (eds), <em>Die Sinnlichkeit des Sozialen</em> (Bielefeld: transcript, 2014). Accordingly, tacit knowledge even though it is inarticulate can become traceable by paying close attention to social practices.

While paying attention to social practices in the field of music listening is not a novelty, the level at which the body and its tacit knowledge are acknowledged needs to be intensified. The crucial co-operation between the senses and the social situation has recently been underlined by Andreas Reckwitz. According to him, the body not only harbours the senses and the tacit knowledge of how to regulate their perception, but also the social knowledge of how to use them in specific social constellations. This has its silent effect on the perception itself or, coincidentally, the experience. 15[15] Andreas Reckwitz, ‘Sinne und Praktiken. Die sinnliche Organisation des Sozialen’ in Sophia Prinz and Hanna Katharina Göbel (eds), <em>Die Sinnlichkeit des Sozialen</em> (Bielefeld: transcript, 2014), p. 447. If we want to learn more about music listening experiences, therefore, all practices which taught the body how to handle a specific music listening situation as rendered in historical sources need to be taken into account carefully.

In the field of music listening, these concepts of tacit knowledge can easily be connected to Christopher Small’s concept of ‘musicking’. This might seem misleading at first, since Small’s definition of ‘musicking’ admittedly is quite broad:

To music is to take part, in any capacity, in a musical performance, whether by performing, by listening, by rehearsing or practicing, by providing material for performance (what is called composing), or by dancing. […] 16[16] Christopher Small, <em>Musicking. The Meaning of Performing and Listening</em> (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1998), p. 9; similar ideas have been developed by  Antoine Hennion, ‘Music Lovers. Taste as Performance’ in <em>Theory, Culture & Society</em> 18(5), 2001; Antoine Hennion, ‘Playing, Performing, Listening: Making Music – or Making Music Act?’ in Lee Marshall and Dave Laing (eds), <em>Popular Music Matters. Essays in Honour of Simon Frith</em> (Farnham: Ashgate Publishing, 2014).

What this definition points out, however, is that music listening is not an isolated activity but one that normally overlaps and interacts with other music-related activities. Just as Small proposes to pay full attention to all sorts of relationships before, during and after a musical performance to analyse musicking, narrowing the task down to all activities which coincide or interact with listening as one aspect of musicking is a more complex goal than is often acknowledged – especially when it is combined with a concept of tacit knowledge which comprises a large component of memory. 17[17] See Small, 1998, pp. 13–14.

On the most basic level, listening to music and making music are not necessarily separate things but are often practised at the same time by the same person. Patterns of experience of practising music repetitiously while simultaneously listening to the outcome influence each other as they both feed into the ‘tacit musicking knowledge’. Accordingly, even if in a specific situation listeners might not play they will still use the tacit knowledge of how to listen to music which they gained while practising music. More specifically, as they have learned listening to a specific kind of music by playing it they are likely to handle and experience the same kind of music in a very similar way to the way in which they became accustomed by practising. This may comprise various combinations of sensual focus: for example, tactile stimuli with regard to a certain instrument, heightened attention to pitch and other musical aspects repeatedly worked on, a visual image of how one should look while playing, the idea of a social setting appropriate to a specific kind of music, and so on. If listening while practising is the dominant way in which the listeners learned to listen to music in general, when first confronted with unknown music, they are likely to try to handle it in the same way, that is, with the same kind of interplay of the senses while listening – but probably with certain moments of irritation.

Writing conversationally about music

However, the contorted situation regarding historical accounts of music listening remains: in the accounts it is in fact words that convey and abstract the bodily experience. 18[18] Following Small, personal accounts would also be a part of musicking as they are related to a musical performance. In order to be clearer in my line of argument, however, I will still differentiate between listening as musicking and conversing and writing (as musicking). These words, even in brief renderings, are still likely to grant a glimpse of the tacit knowledge of which kind of interplay of the senses was used, while at the same time these words adhere to standards of verbal communication. To gain a better insight into listening experiences it is therefore possible and necessary to differentiate the aspects of sensual perception and the premises of their depiction in written accounts. Concurring with Reckwitz, however, the tacit knowledge of how to listen due to experience in practising music, for example, overlaps with tacit social knowledge of how one should listen to as well as describe certain music in order to fulfil conversational standards. 19[19] See Reckwitz, 2014, p. 447. Therefore, even if a specific part of the wording might adhere to specific conversational standards, it is likely to not only depict a ‘rhetoric without consequences’ but actually hint at tacit knowledge which does influence the experience of music listening. 20[20] This factor will be especially relevant to the argument on ‘visual perception logic’, see below.

To get a better grasp of why and how music might be mentioned at all in letters and diaries it is noteworthy that the personal accounts of music listening still available from the first half of the eighteenth century predominantly stem from the better-off classes for which music listening has to be regarded as a part of their everyday experiences. 21[21] See William Weber, ‘Musical Culture and the Capital City. The Epoch of the <em>beau monde</em> in London, 1700–1870’ in Susan Wollenberg and Simon McVeigh (eds), <em>Concert Life in Eighteenth-Century Britain</em> (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004); Robert D. Hume, ‘The Economics of Culture in London, 1660–1740’ in <em>Huntington Library Quarterly</em> 69(4), 2006. This included both visiting entertainments with musical components as well as education which, especially for women, regularly comprised singing, harpsichord practice and dancing. 22[22] See, for example, Michèle Lardy, ‘Had God intended Women onely as a finer sort of Cattle, he would not have made them reasonable’. ‘Nature vs Nurture: The Debate around Women’s Education’, in Manuela D’Amore and Michèle Lardy (eds), <em>Essays in Defence of the Female Sex. Custom, Education and Authority in Seventeenth-Century England</em> (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012). Furthermore, common social gatherings with music – such as communal singing of songs and ballads, or psalms at church – were regular occasions for music practice.

Turning to the descriptive level of eighteenth-century letters, we can first observe that news about entertainments was expected in correspondence. Second, this information was selected according to the writer’s and addressee’s specific interests. Only if either one had any interest in music were musical entertainments actually described – otherwise they would not be mentioned at all. If it was the writer who liked music, he or she normally also played some instrument himself/herself. If it was the addressee who favoured music the writer would at least know how the addressee expected to be informed about music. Accordingly, some kind of tacit musicking knowledge can be expected, more often than not with a component of bodily experience of singing or playing an instrument, in any account of music in diaries and letters. Third, any information about entertainments needed to be rendered as succinct judgements. 23[23] These conclusions are drawn from my studying a total of over 100 correspondences from the first half of the eighteenth century in archives all over England during the summer/autumn of 2017. The standards for letter communication are transferrable to those of diaries which mention music to a certain extent since only rare elaborate diaries would mention music in full sentences after all as these were often designed for friends – or even for posterity. This normally led to the dominance of the visual sense in description as it was linked most closely to everyday perception, as Joseph Addison’s ranking of the senses in his ‘Essay on the Pleasures of the Imagination’, printed in the Spectator in 1712, underlines. 24[24] Joseph Addison, ‘Essay on the Pleasures of the Imagination’, <em>The Spectator</em> Nos. 411–421, 1712; see especially No. 411, 21 June 1712: ‘OUR Sight is the most perfect and most delightful of our Senses. It fills the Mind with the largest Variety of Ideas, converses with its Objects at the greatest Distance, and continues the longest in Action without being tired or satiated with its proper Enjoyments.’

However, the dominance of a certain sense does not only determine the focus of any description, but it also influences the way in which aspects perceived by different senses are described. Granting for now that visible objects often dominated descriptions of entertainments (even though the interplay of the senses during the experience involved more senses than only sight), even the wording of musical aspects in an account can be linked to the qualities of different senses.

I will attempt to explain this crucial point by comparing how descriptions of musical aspects can be linked to the qualities – or ‘logic’ – of the two prominent senses, in this case, sound and sight. First, I will try to outline characteristics of descriptions which follow the logic of aural perception in their wording: according to the ability of the ear to receive stimuli from all directions at once, accounts rooted in this kind of description logic are likely to render more general notions of phenomena that pass away swiftly – such as music. Aural perception is unlikely to recur precisely, a common experience of anyone practising an instrument. Listening trained by personal practice of music will expect variety with regard to repetition of the same musical work as well as music of the same style. 25[25] This coincides with qualities ascribed to (semi-)‘oral cultures’ quite logically; see Ong, 1982; Small, 1998, p. 7. At the very least, accounts following ‘aural perception logic’ in their wording will not describe music as if it were a fixed object.

Sight, on the other hand, perceives its objects as comparatively fixed objects, mostly concentrating on a specific aspect of it. Vision is predominantly fixed on objects which change much more slowly than sound. Therefore, these objects do not need to be recreated to be re-experienced. This is a fundamental difference from anything experienced by hearing which ceases the moment it is heard and needs repetition in the form of re-creation to be re-experienced. Therefore, accounts of musical performances which describe aspects of sound as if they were fixed and not prone to variety follow ‘visual perception logic’ – and also point to a noticeably different quality of music experience.

This last point is best proven by way of a specific example. To illustrate both, wordings of accounts following ‘aural perception logic’ and ‘visual perception logic’, as well as comparing them, I will examine accounts of two examples of musical entertainment in England in the first half of the eighteenth century which share quite a range of similarities: they were listened to by more or less the same audience and they both offered the possibility for the perceiver to either focus on musical, textual, decorative, spatial or performative aspects: namely, ballad opera and Italian opera.

Tracing ‘aural perception logic’ in written accounts: transience and variation

John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera had a massive public reception. It had a run of 62 performances in its first season in Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre in 1728. It was soon played in different cities and towns all over Britain and stayed in the repertoire of London’s theatres until the end of the century. 26[26] See Uwe Böker, Ines Detmers and Anna-Christina Giovanopoulos, ‘From Gay to Brecht and Beyond. Imitation and Re-Writing of <em>The Beggar’s Opera</em>, 1728 to 2004’ in Uwe Böker, Ines Detmers and Anna-Christina Giovanopoulos (eds), <em>John Gay’s ‘The Beggar’s Opera’, 1728–2004. Adaptations and Re-Writings</em> (Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2006), p. 9. Shortly before it was first staged, Alexander Pope predicted in a letter to Jonathan Swift, ‘whether it succeeds or not, it will make a great noise, but whether of Claps or Hisses I know not.’ 27[27] Letter [January] 1728, in George Sherburn (ed.), <em>The Correspondence of Alexander Pope</em>, vol. 2 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956), p. 469. The noise it made, however, was not restricted to the immediate reaction of the audience as Pope suggests. Descriptions in diaries and letters point to different aspects of practical rather than intellectual reflection on the sensual experience.

Many accounts show how the listening experience was remembered with varied imitation. For example, Gertrude Savile’s diary records multiple visits to the Beggar’s Opera and follow-ups. Additionally, she used printed editions of the text and music to listen to it herself, performing it over and over again, alone as well as in social circles. For example, shortly after the first edition of the Beggar’s Opera was published, she writes in her diary:

Mrs. Newton, Lady Palmerston, Lady Clavering and 2 Daughters (great fortunes), and 3 Mrs. Fox’s here. While the 2 last were here, and Mrs.D.Enly alone in Mother’s room, I read ‘The Beggar’s Opera’ to them in intervalls, before and after supper. 28[28] Entry 15 February 1728, in Alan Saville and Marjorie Penn (eds), <em>Secret Comment. The Diaries of Gertrude Savile 1721–1757</em> (Devon: Kingsbridge History Society, 1997), p. 103.

The experience of the Beggar’s Opera obviously enticed her into hearing the words aloud in a sociable atmosphere, producing the sound herself. Furthermore, she noted in her diary that she frequently practised and ‘pricked’ tunes from the Beggar’s Opera on the harpsichord. Here are some examples: ‘Writt morn. Play’d tunes in ‘the Beggar’s Opera’ 2 hours after dinner;’ ‘Harpsichord from dark till 1/2 past 12 – 5 hours with a great deal of pleasure;’ ‘This day imploy’d as of late viz:- Mend Lace, Harpsichord, pricking ‘Beggar’s Opera’;’ or ‘harpsichord and prick’d Tunes out of ‘Beggar’s Opera’. 29[29] Entries 20 February 1728; 26 February 1728; 4 February 1729; 15 February 1729, in Saville / Penn (eds), 1997, pp. 105–106; 161–162.

Following the logic of the hearing sense, the same event could never be reproduced exactly, but variations of all kinds were inevitable – and acceptable – when this familiar experience was repeated. This listening practice was new in its extent with respect to the Beggar’s Opera, but it wasn’t new as a (prolonged) listening practice. On the contrary, as is well known the music of the Beggar’s Opera was mostly arranged from ballad tunes as collected and published in collections such as Thomas D’Urfey’s Pills to Purge Melancholy (1719–20) and Playford’s Dancing Master (various editions 1751–c. 1728). 30[30] For details on the origins of the airs see Jeremy Barlow’s edition, <em>The Music of John Gay’s ‘The Beggar’s Opera’</em> (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), pp. 108<em>–</em>116. Accordingly, the ballad opera was designed and probably also listened to in a similar way to the tradition of public as well as private ballad singing which was not just a lower class practice, but probably the biggest musical mass phenomenon of its time. 31[31] See Claude M. Simpson, <em>The British Broadside Ballad and its Music</em> (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1966); Natascha Würzbach,  <em>Anfänge und gattungstypische Ausformung der englischen Strassenballade, 1550–1650</em> (München: Fink, 1981, English translation Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990); Patricia Fumerton, Anita Guerrini and Kris McAbee  (eds),<em> Ballads and Broadsides in Britain, 1500–1800</em> (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010). Singing various texts to the same tune was not only common but a main part of the associative fun any new text for an old tune created – even though the spirit of these different texts was adjusted to the tune. 32[32] See Christopher Marsh, <em>Music and Society in Early Modern England</em> (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), chapter ‘Ballads and the Meaning of Melody’, pp. 288<em>–</em>327. The music in its combination needed to be open to variation and was highly transferrable as to the singer’s qualities, instrumentation, place of performance and textual choice. These qualities of variation and their close connection to (semi-)oral cultures can most easily be linked to the qualities of the hearing sense. Savile not only joined in this general aural variation already known from ballad singing but incorporated her remembrance of the Beggar’s Opera in her solitary as well as social variants of domestic music (and reading). Therefore, stimuli of the sense of vision (as, for instance, the importance of a certain spatial setting would suggest) or a specified sense of touch (as, for instance, a close connection to a specific instrument would suggest) seem to have been less important to the musical experience than the versatile audible sensation as well as a general corporal involvement variably related to singing or playing the harpsichord.

Savile was not an exception. Re-‘musicking’ this way was a common way of dealing with listening experiences as well as describing them. Further letters by other authors prove how even self-proclaimed followers of the Italian opera, which was ridiculed in the Beggar’s Opera, enticed relatives outside the city to join in musicking the piece. Mary Pendarves, for instance, one of George Frideric Handel’s most faithful supporters, sent its score to her sister in Gloucester, writing:

I desire you will introduce the Beggar’s Opera at Glocester; you must sing it everywhere but at church, if you have a mind to be like the polite world. 33[33] Letter to her sister Anne Granville, 14 March 1728, in Delany, vol. 1, 1861, p. 163.

Likewise, Pendarves did not refrain from musicking the Beggar’s Opera herself:

Yesterday Mrs. Peyton and I went to Court in the morning; I afterwards dined with the family of the Peytons and Dashwoods, and supped. […] We were very merry, and sung the Beggars’ Opera, talked, and wished for my mama and you, but all in vain. 34[34] Letter to her sister Anne Granville, 29 February 1728, in Delany, vol. 1, 1861, p. 159.

Pendarves’ challenges to spread the music by encouraging others as well as repeating it herself in social circles underline how the variation of musical realisations was a part of a prolonged, positive experience. Her mischievous remark to her sister to at least spare the church from a performance of the Beggar’s Opera points to the influence polite manners had on musical descriptions of this kind of music – manners might be mentioned but were disregarded as to the personal practice since the experience obviously was too entertaining and widespread to be suppressed by moral considerations. On the contrary, Pendarves insinuates that listening to as well as performing the Beggar’s Opera was in fact part of ‘polite’ music listening.

The recollection of the sensual experience of this kind of music as performed on stage while one could ‘only’ listen was nourished by imitating it with one’s own body and friends as the common practice of ballad singing suggests. One listening focus this implies for the listening experience is on the difficulty of the piece, its performative challenges – necessitating a sober evaluation of one’s own capacities to recreate, vary, and reproduce the music heard. This is a sensual stimulation which can potentially also be self-reflective based on one’s musical skills. In summary, the listening experience these descriptions imply is quite immediate as hearing is most prominent in the interplay of senses. The experience is of an interactive nature and strongly provokes necessarily corporeal imitation. The description in accounts is brief. However, the brevity of the description is appropriate to its function which is based on the challenge to action. The intensity of the listening experience is prone to differ with respect to the listener’s own musical skills to imitate and thereby be part of the music heard, the amount of experience already gathered with respect to ballad listening and performing, and with the specific musical performance.

Tracing ‘visual perception logic’ in written accounts: music as a fixed object

The musical accounts I chose as examples for wordings of ‘aural perception logic’ lack one point I formerly identified as specific to written conversational communication: they did not pass judgements on the music but rather conveyed a merry atmosphere about the musical situation in general. Accounts of music listening, including judgements on the music, at times point to a slowly shifting or rather varying quality of descriptions of listening experiences. In the first half of the eighteenth century, this is traceable most easily in accounts of what is often described as the rivalry between, on the one hand, English songs like many of those from the Beggar’s Opera and, on the other hand, Italian opera which was introduced in London in the beginning of the eighteenth century. While dealing with airs from Italian operas the same way as with ballads, by re-musicking them with the help of scores, was possible and probably practised by some – airs from operas were printed just as ballads were – there are accounts which evidence first indications of differences gradually developing between listening to Italian opera as opposed to ballad opera. By way of example, I will turn to one listener who already served as an example for listeners of the Beggar’s Opera, Mary Pendarves.

In December 1729, almost two years after the premiere of the Beggar’s Opera, Mary Pendarves wrote to her sister about the ongoing competition – as she conceives it – between the Italian opera and the Beggar’s Opera as well as other ballad operas:

We are to have some old [Italian] opera revived, which I am sorry for, it will put people upon making comparisons between these singers and those that performed before, which will be a disadvantage among the ill-judging multitude. The present opera [= Handel’s Lotario] is disliked because it is too much studied, and they love nothing but minuets and ballads, in short the Beggar’s Opera and Hurlothrumbo are only worthy of applause. 35[35] Letter 20 December 1729, in Delany, vol. 1, 1861, p. 229.<em> Hurlothrumbo</em> by Samuel Johnson was one of the most successful ballad operas following <em>The Beggar’s Opera;</em> see Suzanne Aspden, ‘An Infinity of Factions. Opera in Eighteenth-Century Britain and the Undoing of Society’ in <em>Cambridge Opera Journal</em> 9(1), 1997, pp. 3<em>–</em>5.

This description hints at a mode of listening influenced by ‘visual perception logic’ to some degree, in close relation to expected criticism on re-staging an ‘old’ opera. Pendarves expects ‘the ill-judging multitude’ to compare the performative qualities of the old with the new set of singers. This kind of comparison of a repeated experience, visiting the same opera at least twice, would be quite normal to any kind of listening description which is led by the characteristics of the aural sense – a quality of listening she obviously encouraged herself in her reception of the Beggar’s Opera. We don’t know what the people Pendarves describes as ‘the ill-judging multitude’ would actually have done. However, bearing in mind the cultural practice of re-musicking music heard on stage, it can be argued that there were two obstacles to Handel’s operas being approached with the same listening mode as described above for listening to ballad operas: First, performing practices play a role. During the first half of the eighteenth century, the use of vocal embellishments, which clearly could not easily be imitated by only moderately educated singers, increased, enlarging the gap between opera performance and private imitation. This might be one reason why a revival might have led to an artistically more demanding rendering of the same opera which, consequently, might be harder to imitate at home. Second, and in connection to this argument, it is noteworthy that Pendarves mentions that critics thought Handel’s Lotario was ‘too much studied’. While this may well mean that it was too complex or ‘scientific’, the practical consequence is, again, that it is also harder to imitate at home than ballads are. 36[36] Especially in the first two acts the arias of <em>Lotario</em> are embellished in a way which strongly hides regular rhythmic or thematic patterns which might have sounded imitable. At the same time, criticising art for being ‘too much studied’ is a polite argument within conversational norms of musical appreciation only if the performance seems to be rendered effortlessly. See Katie Halsey and Jane Slinn (eds), <em>The Concept and Practice of Conversation in the Long Eighteenth Century, 1688–1848</em> (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014).

In short, the arguments Pendarves used to criticise the ‘ill-judging multitude’ can be understood as a criticism of their likely way to listen to Italian opera the same way she listens to ballad opera. Since she expected negative judgement with respect to Italian opera from this, Pendarves obviously intended to oppose this mode of listening and suggested a different attitude. The consequence is that she implicitly stylised the composition the way it was first performed as something like a fixed object which would be wronged if recreated in a varied ‘revival’. Furthermore, there isn’t a single notion in her diaries of singing opera songs at home. This places greater emphasis on the performance during the first listening situation (and similarly when it was repeatedly performed in the same season by the same set of singers) as opposed to her discussion of the Beggar’s Opera where the emphasis was on varied imitations of the performance by herself as well as others.

This different kind of depiction of the experience is highly influenced by social standards of polite judgements. When discussing the Beggar’s Opera alone, it seemed to suffice to warn her sister not to sing it in church to stay within polite boundaries. When there is a situation of competition between two kinds of music, however, she seemed to have forgotten her joyful listening experiences of the Beggar’s Opera.

On the whole, Pendarves seemed to listen to Italian opera differently from the way in which she listened to the Beggar’s Opera. With Italian opera, she was opposed to variation as she was opposed to revivals. Thereby, she remembers the listening experience as a fixed impression of its first staged performance and desired no major variation. She might have only applied this line of argument to account for her partiality to Italian opera within a broader listening practice with other preferences, of course. However, concurring with Reckwitz this must have had an effect on her ‘real’ listening experiences, too. As Italian opera is harder to enjoy in the same way as ballad operas, she adjusted her way of listening when focused on Italian opera music.

The difference between Pendarves’ description of listening to the Beggar’s Opera and Handel’s operas and the probable listening experience itself becomes even clearer in the description with which I started my chapter. The complete account is as follows:

Yesterday morning my sister and I went with Mrs. Donellan to Mr. Handel’s house to hear the first rehearsal of the new opera Alcina. I think it the best he ever made, but I have thought so of so many, that I will not say positively ’tis the finest, but ’tis so fine I have not words to describe it. Strada has a whole scene of charming recitative – there are a thousand beauties. Whilst Mr. Handel was playing his part, I could not help thinking him a necromancer in the midst of his own enchantments. I believe, dear madam, you will be tired of my account of music, which does not describe so well as it sounds. 37[37] Letter 12 April 1735, in Delany, vol. 1, 1861, pp. 533–534.

While Pendarves finds it hard to describe her impressions of the rehearsal, her description obviously is designed following ‘visual perception logic’. The individual performance is nearly left out and Handel’s operas are compared against each other as if they were objects. The only musical aspect she names – the recitative – is just as far away from normal vocal skills as the picture of Handel as a necromancer is from common harpsichord playing. Moreover, Pendarves turns to the subject of the opera to create this image of Handel as a necromancer in accordance with, if not as an enhancement of, the sorcerer Alcina (played and sung by Anna Maria Strada). Thereby, of the different possibilities to reflect the listening experience, she chooses visual imagery to mentally reinforce the distance between her as a listener and the spatially as well as socially rather intimate listening situation at the composer’s home. Her reception therefore is one of distant admiration – which is not characteristic of ‘aural perception logic’, as aural impressions are never distant at the moment of perception. One listening focus this implies is on what seems impossible to recreate, implying fascination with the unattainable. This fascination, however, is only possible if the listener creates an inner distance between the sensual impressions entering the body through the aural sense and instead draws on a more partial mode of perception – such as vision offers. The music is taken in, aurally as otherwise, but the interplay and hierarchy of the senses while listening to this kind of music has clearly been reordered.


There are no theoretical reflections on certain types of music listeners by English writers up to the middle of the eighteenth century. 38[38] Charles Avison in his ‘Essay on Musical Expression’ from 1752 might be regarded as the first one, especially due to remarks in his further discussion with William Hayes. Influences from discussions on different types of listeners on the continent such as in Jean Laurent Le Cerf, <em>Comparaison de la musique italienne et de la musique françoise</em>, vol. 2 (Brussels: François Foppens, 1705) to my knowledge have not been investigated systematically. Personal accounts from music listeners are unlikely to fill that gap but they grant insight into other dimensions of listening experiences. Even though most of these accounts are very brief, when analysed within their ‘musicking’ context at least two broad modes of listening can be distinguished. They can be characterised by their describing a specific musical experience as something fixed or fleeting and on the way repetition of the experience is implied – by varied imitation or just revisiting as a listener without musical participation. Accounts rooted in ‘aural perception logic’ present an immediate relation to the music while ‘visual perception logic’ rather presents the listener as a bystander. They point to fundamental differences in listening with regard to personal involvement depending on which sense is dominant in the interplay of the senses during listening. The intensity of the listening experience in both cases seems to be defined by the listener’s practical musical skills and their relation to the level of performative difficulty of the music. It is quite significant that Pendarves’ descriptions of listening to the Beggar’s Opera and Handel’s operas differentiated between music which she could easily imitate and music which any humble music lover would have to leave to professional musicians.

It is important to emphasise, though, that it doesn’t prove to be a historic shift from the one listening mode to the other. As the example of Mary Pendarves illustrates, the same person would listen to different kinds of music in noticeably divergent ways. Furthermore, even the examples of this chapter cannot be reduced to clear and exclusively aurally or visually characterised modes of music perception. However, they point to aural or visual accentuations in music perception. The two models, therefore, can serve as a point of orientation to differentiate intermediate or mixed modes of listening.

Both ‘perception logics’ lead to brief descriptions as they are both testimonies of a cultural knowledge of how to listen to music which has to be regarded as a mostly tacit knowledge. This tacit knowledge can, however, be reconstructed by bearing in mind the musical skills and practices of the listener as well as considering the amount of cultural knowledge which remained unmentioned – either because it was unconscious or because it was a matter of course.

There is still a lot to learn from specific case studies in order to gain more insight into the interplay of the senses and their effect on the listening experience in order to develop a differentiated view of music listening in eighteenth-century England. While any listener typology which has been developed, from Adorno’s ‘Hörertypen’ to Simon Frith’s grouping of three basic ways of listening, presumed a listener who is ‘only’ listening, 39[39] Theodor W. Adorno, <em>Einleitung in die Musiksoziologie. Zwölf Theoretische Vorlesungen</em> (Reinbek: Rowohlt, 1968); Simon Frith, ‘More than meets the ear: on listening as a social practice’ in Barlow / Rowland (eds), 2017. the brevity of accounts from the eighteenth century strongly suggests that we should take more than ‘just’ the moment of listening into consideration.

Select bibliography

Collins, Harry. Tacit and Explicit Knowledge. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.

Loenhoff, Jens (ed.). Implizites Wissen. Epistemologische und handlungstheoretische Perspektiven. Weilerswist: Velbrück, 2012.

Marsh, Christopher. Music and Society in Early Modern England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Netzwerk ‘Hör-Wissen im Wandel’ (ed.). Wissensgeschichte des Hörens in der Moderne. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2017.

Ong, Walter J. The Presence of the World. Some Prolegomena for Cultural and Religious History. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1967.

Small, Christopher. Musicking. The Meaning of Performing and Listening. Hanover: University Press of New England, 1998.

Reckwitz, Andreas. ‘Sinne und Praktiken. Die sinnliche Organisation des Sozialen’, in Prinz, Sophia and Göbel, Hanna Katharina (eds). Die Sinnlichkeit des Sozialen. Bielefeld: transcript, 2014.

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Beyond the aesthetic: the ‘sensory turn’ and models of music listening today

Rebecca Rinsema

Rebecca Rinsema, PhD, is Assistant Professor of Music in General Studies at Northern Arizona University, where she teaches courses on the cultural study of rock and popular music. She is author of the book Listening in Action: Teaching Music in the Digital Age (Ashgate/Routledge, 2017), as well as chapters and articles relating to music listening technology and experience, enactive perception, popular music, and pedagogy. As a singer, she specialises in early music. She has taught music to students ranging from pre-k to the university level.


In this chapter I compare Simon Frith’s music listening typology, Ola Stockfelt’s Possible Modes of Listening Model, and my Integration in Consciousness Model as they relate to the question: ‘how do we listen to music today?’ I identify ways in which each model/typology reflects or does not reflect the ‘sensory turn’ in the academy. According to David Howes and others, the sensory turn has granted a more important place to the human senses across the disciplines, challenging the primacy of the sense of sight. The distinctions I make here contextualise these models of music listening for practitioner/researchers in the field of music therapy, the field of music education, the field of participatory/community music-making in social work contexts, and, broadly, those who engage with music and wellbeing, among others. In that these models/typologies fall in step with the sensory turn, they seem especially applicable to the practitioner/researchers in these fields, as the promotion of aesthetic ideals is not the sole outcome (or an outcome at all) of their work.


David Howes and others have argued that we have witnessed a ‘sensory turn’ across the academic disciplines in recent decades. For Howes, the sensory turn entails two major shifts in how the human senses are treated in the academy. First, it challenges the presumed primacy of sight and the visual over and against the other senses. Second, it grants a more significant place to the senses within the disciplines of history, geography, anthropology, communications and the arts, including as we will see music and music listening. 41[41] David Howes, <em>Senses and Sensation: Critical and Primary Sources </em>(New York: Bloomsbury, 2018); David Howes, <em>A Cultural History of the Senses in the Modern Age 1920</em><em>–</em><em>2000</em> (New York: Bloomsbury, 2014).

Within scholarship pertaining to music and music listening, one might reasonably expect that sound has always been granted primacy over sight. But this has not been the case. Indeed, even in theories of music listening, sight has been a primary driver, via principles and ideals of the aesthetic paradigm that hinge on the ‘musical work’ and the visual representation of it. In this article, I will not be directly challenging the ideals of the aesthetic paradigm in music or related to music listening; several scholars have done so in the past decades. 42[42] See, for example, Rose Subotnik, <em>Deconstructive Variations Music and Reason in Western Society</em> (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996). Instead, I will lay out how recent models and typologies of music listening move past the aesthetic, in ways that are in keeping with the sensory turn described by Howes.

The models and typologies described herein were developed in response to the aesthetic paradigm; as such, it behooves me to provide a brief description of it. As well, I delineate how other scholars, namely Marta Garcia Quiñones, have already conceived of the sensory turn in music listening scholarship.

The aesthetic paradigm, stemming from the Western classical music tradition, has placed a significant emphasis on musical works and their structures as they exist, ultimately, in notated scores, visual representations of the sounds. The driving assumption behind aesthetic ideals of music listening is as follows: musical meaning resides exclusively in the structure of the musical work; the ‘work’ is viewed as an autonomous object that has meaning beyond its contexts. When it comes to ideal listening, the most extreme view resulting from the aesthetic paradigm is that those who can read and audiate the sounds in their heads are the most ideal listeners (of course, one wonders if this can really be called listening at all). The dominant, less extreme view within the aesthetic paradigm is that ideal listeners are those that listen to a work without distraction, in order to realise the structure of the work. ‘Concert-hall listening’ is one manifestation of this conception of ideal listening, but there are others as well. Aesthetic ideals underpin pop and rock aficionado arguments for listening to albums (works) from beginning to end in one sitting or in high fidelity. Aesthetic ideals also underpin arguments for such practices as ‘attentive listening,’ ‘focused listening’, and, to some extent ‘deep listening’, that are promoted in music education contexts. 43[43] For more on this, see Rebecca Rinsema, ‘De-sacralizing the European: music appreciation (then) and music listening (now),’ <em>Music Education Research</em>, 20, no. 4 (2018), pp. 480<em>–</em>489.

Over the past decades, challenges to this paradigm its ideals and practices associated with them, across musical genres have come from many directions within and outside the discipline of music. However, only recently have scholars contextualised these challenges as part of the larger sensory turn across academia. For Marta Garcia Quiñones, when it comes to music listening, the sensory turn can be viewed as a turn away from the musical work as it was theorised to be connected to the composer’s intentions, and thus also away from the visual representations of the music via notation and/or the score, and toward the idiosyncratic sensory experiences of listeners. 44[44] Marta García Quiñones, ‘Historical models of music listening and theories of audition: towards an understanding of music listening outside aesthetic framework’ (Thesis/Dissertation, Barcelona: Universitat de Barcelona, 2015). Garcia Quiñones points to the emergence of the field of Sound Studies, also known as Auditory Culture, as an example of this turn in music listening. I should note, as a whole, Sound Studies and Auditory Culture scholars investigate all heard phenomena and experiences associated with them, not just music listening.

There seems to be a trend across disciplines and schools of thought that begins with a focus of attention on the object (in this case, the music and/or the written score), then moves to the mind of the subject (the listener), and finally to the body of the subject (the senses). For example, in the rhetoric of the music appreciation movement in the United States, as well as in the philosophy of music education, there was first an emphasis on listening to the great works from the Western classical music tradition. 45[45] Bennett Reimer, <em>A Philosophy of Music Education</em> (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1970). Listeners were to listen to the great works for the purposes of cultural elevation. Soon after, with decolonisation efforts, scholars emphasised ‘how’ one should be listening with focus and attention to a wide variety of musics. 46[46] Rebecca Rinsema, ‘De-sacralizing the European: music appreciation (then) and music listening (now),’ <em>Music Education Research</em> 20, no. 4 (2018), pp. 480<em>–</em>489. Thus, there was a focus on the mind of the subject. Not long after, listening was near completely abandoned for a focus on ‘praxis’ what one does with the body primarily as it related to making music. 47[47] David Elliott, <em>Music Matters: A New Philosophy of Music Education</em> (New York: Oxford, 1995). Most recently, music education scholars are identifying ways in which listening is a bodily, sensory activity, not exclusively related to the mind.

A similar trajectory can also be identified in phenomenology. Husserl’s phenomenology focused on the object of the experience; it entailed ‘bracketing out’ the idiosyncratic experiences of subjects; the ‘essence’ of the experience was only found in the object. 48[48] Edmund Husserl and Lee Hardy, <em>The Idea of Phenomenology: A Translation of Die Idee Der Phänomenologie, Husserliana II</em> (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic, 1999). Next, Heidegger’s phenomenology focused on the interpretive role of the subject, interpretation being a process related to the mind. 49[49] Martin Heidegger and Albert Hofstadter, <em>The Basic Problems of Phenomenology </em>(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005). And, finally, Merleau-Ponty focused on the body of the subject as related to phenomenological experience. 50[50] Maurice Merleau-Ponty, <em>Phenomenology of Perception</em> (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962). Indeed, David Howes identifies contemporary phenomenological research as one of the approaches that he considers part of the sensory turn. 51[51] David Howes, <em>Senses and Sensation</em>. The sensory turn and attributes of it can thus be identified in a wide variety of methods and theoretical frameworks.

As I mentioned earlier, recently published typographies and models of music listening, including those of Simon Frith and Ola Stockfelt, and my own, demonstrate aspects of the sensory turn as described by Garcia Quiñones and Howes. Thus, the main objective of this chapter is to outline how they do so. In fulfilling this objective, I compare how these models address a central question related to contemporary music listening: ‘how do we listen to music today?’ 52[52] Recent research has also shed significant light on the question of ‘why do we listen to music today?’; it reflects the sensory turn in that the senses, in this case hearing/listening, are considered to be socially constructed. Here are some examples from within that literature: Diana Boer and Ronald Fischer, ‘Towards a holistic model of functions of music listening across cultures: a culturally decentred qualitative approach,’ <em>Psychology of Music</em> 40, no. 2 (March 2012), pp.179–200. doi:10.1177/0305735610381885; William M. Randall and Nikki Sue Rickard. ‘Reasons for personal music listening: a mobile experience sampling study of emotional outcomes,’ <em>Psychology of Music</em> 45, no. 4 (July 2017), pp. 479–495. Doi: 10.1177/0305735616666939.

My hope is that these comparisons contextualise the models for practitioner/researchers in the field of music therapy, the field of music education, the field of participatory/community music-making in social work contexts, and, broadly, those who engage with music and wellbeing. In that these models and typologies fall in step with the sensory turn, they seem especially applicable to the practitioner researchers in these fields, as the promotion of aesthetic ideals is not the sole outcome of their work (or, in many cases, an outcome that is promoted at all). That said, I imagine that the distinctions that I make here could be of use to anyone who is interested in the phenomenon of music listening or is interested in continuing to move conversations about music listening past the aesthetic paradigm. This is an interdisciplinary effort; I include models and typologies that have arisen from the areas of sociology of music, music education, and music theory.

I begin with Simon Frith’s model, which draws heavily from Theodor Adorno’s taxonomy of music listeners. Next, I introduce the Integration in Consciousness model (IC model), which I developed in response to hierarchies intrinsic to Adorno’s taxonomy and other modern approaches to music listening. I conclude with Stockfelt’s models, which can be viewed as alternatives to Adorno and Frith, much like the IC model. A comparison of the IC model and Stockfelt’s models raises questions for further research from the vantage point of the sensory turn.

Simon Frith’s typology (sociology of music)

In the first Listening Experience Database project publication, the prolific and highly influential sociologist Simon Frith described a music listener typology that he developed from decades of researching live music scenes across Britain. He focused on the disputes of those in the industry related to listening practices in live performance settings in order to determine the distinctions between listener/listening types. 53[53] Simon Frith, ‘More than meets the ear: on listening as a social practice’ in Helen Barlow and David Rowland (eds), <em>Listening to Music: People, Practices and Experiences</em> (Milton Keynes, UK: The Open University, 2017). Thus, the listener typology described by Frith is one that relates specifically to live music contexts. Additionally, Frith used Theodor Adorno’s listener typology (along with Peter Szendy’s commentary on Adorno), 54[54] Peter Szendy and Jean-Luc Nancy, <em>Listen: A History of our Ears</em> (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008). as a point of departure for his listener typology. Adorno, a pioneer in bringing sociological methods to issues in music, developed a typology that was firmly rooted in the aesthetic paradigm. Remnants of the aesthetic paradigm, thus, persist in Frith’s typology (for example, the values-laden language used to identify each type), but there are indeed ways in which Frith’s typology also reflects, at the very least, movement toward the sensory paradigm.

Frith first lays out Adorno’s three types: the expert listener, the good listener, and the fallen listener. The expert listener comprehends the logic and structure of musical works as they listen, being able to relate past, present, and future (predictions) in each moment. The good listener is one that comprehends the implications of the musical structures while not being able to fully conceptualise the structures themselves. And, finally, the fallen listener is one that cannot comprehend the structure of the work. It’s important to note here that Adorno’s types appear rigid, such that individuals are classified as one or the other, and can only move ‘up’ the typology as they develop their skills. I don’t believe that Adorno imagined listeners could at one moment be expert listeners and at other moments be fallen listeners. This is an important difference between Adorno’s listener typology and Frith’s listening typology, a fluid categorisation of types of engagements rather than a relatively rigid categorisation of people.

Frith’s three listening types include: serious listening, participatory listening, and secondary listening. Serious listening is correlated with Adorno’s good listener, while participatory and secondary listening have no correlation in Adorno’s model. Frith writes:

Serious listening is akin to Adorno’s good listening, but, whereas for him the ‘good’ listener is taking the musical work seriously, for me the ‘serious’ listener is taking the work of listening seriously, which, from a promoter’s perspective, means removing distractions to the listening process. 55[55] Frith, ‘More than meets the ear’ (2017).

For Frith, to engage in serious listening, one must take the listening seriously within a specific type of sensory environment, one that is void of certain kinds of distractions. Thus, there is a move away from the object of the work, or even the music, and toward the act of listening, with a focus on limiting sensory input as a way to promote that act. Frith is vague when it comes to what the act of serious listening entails beyond limiting other sensory inputs. Although, he suggests near the end of his chapter that listening seriously might entail ‘thoughtlessness.’ Perhaps this means that listeners are to focus on the sensations of the sounds as they are heard in each moment, without additional thoughts or ruminations that an individual might normally have. If this is what Frith has in mind, it further demonstrates the sensory turn.

In participatory listening and secondary listening, Frith places emphasis on additional sensory modalities that can be involved while listening to music, instead of on filtering input from other sensory modalities out. One example of participatory listening is musicians who, naturally, listen while they play. Frith emphasises ensembles here, such as orchestras, jazz trios, rock bands, and so on. For such musicians, visual cues and communications are important, in addition to the auditory cues. But, it seems that Frith would include solo performers here as well, as they also listen while playing, which includes the tactile sense or, at the very least, motion. Another example of participatory listening that Frith mentions is when audiences participate with the performers by clapping along, singing, or even dancing. For Frith participatory listening includes even those participations that do not result in sound. For example, he discusses forms of participatory listening that have emerged as a result of social media, where listeners physically absent from live performance provide running commentary about the performance as they watch/listen to a live stream. Increasingly, those present at such events contribute to this kind of commentary.

For Frith, secondary listening occurs when the music is subordinate to other sensory inputs. In order to define secondary listening, Frith spends most of the time discussing art forms where sight and sound are integrated by the author/creator/artist, for example, circuses and vaudeville performances or, more contemporarily, shows performed by Beyoncé Pink Floyd, or Madonna. Here, Frith seems to revert back to a focus on the nature of the object (Husserl’s phenomenology) as opposed to the overall sensory environment experienced by the listener. At the same time, I think Frith’s point is that listeners can listen in the secondary way no matter the artist’s intention. For example, one could take in a symphony in a way that prioritises the visual over the auditory; indeed this would be the case for someone who has hearing loss. Even so, it’s not clear that in the shows that Frith describes (Pink Floyd, Madonna, and so on) the sounds are subordinate to the visuals. One could argue that they are fully integrated and dependent on one another – of equal importance. In this case, I’m not sure it makes sense to call what many audience members do at these types of events secondary listening. Further, these kinds of shows typically encourage audience participation in the ways he describes in his section on participatory listening, which makes the distinction Frith is making here even more blurry.

The terminologies that Frith uses to describe each of his listening types certainly raise some questions. The term ‘serious’ has a connotation of value as opposed to ‘participatory’ or, perhaps more obviously, ‘secondary’. It seems that Adorno’s hierarchical listener typology (expert, good, fallen) continues to influence the choice of terminology for Frith’s first type of music listening. After all, isn’t it possible to engage in participatory listening ‘seriously’ or even secondary listening ‘seriously’? Why should the filtering out of the other sensory modalities, or not, have an impact on seriousness? Are those attending an opera less serious about music listening than those attending a symphony?

I think Frith might respond to this concern by reminding the reader that his typologies are developed in and through the distinctions that are made by those who attend and promote live music performances, and the ‘disputes’ that he has witnessed among those constituents. Put another way, he is reporting on the social phenomena/debates that arise around listening to music in live contexts. I think it’s also important to note that these debates might be far more important for (there is far more at stake for) those on the conservative side of these debates and, thus, that the debates are framed from that conservative perspective. This is a perspective that arises from the aesthetic paradigm, a paradigm that has been used in and outside the academy to distinguish and elevate some people and some musics over others. There is power in the aesthetic paradigm; this is also a sociological phenomenon. Finally, Frith indicates that shows/spectacles (like a Pink Floyd or Beyoncé performance where sight and sound are integrated) do not take away from ‘real musical experience’; however, as a whole, the typology communicates otherwise.

Generally, Frith’s typology hinges on how sensory inputs are filtered (or not) within the art object, within the environment, and/or in the mind of the listener. In this regard Frith’s typology reflects the sensory turn.

Integration in Consciousness (IC) model (music education)

The IC model resulted from a grounded theory study of digital music listening experiences with mobile devices, namely iphones, ipods, and other similar devices. The model contrasts with Frith’s typology in that it does not deal with live music listening contexts. Even so there are certainly areas of conceptual overlap; I discuss these later in this section. My goal in conducting the study was to provide recommendations for how music educators should respond to the twenty-first century musical engagements of their students within the classroom. 56[56] A full description of the results of the study, the model, and the recommendations can be found in Rebecca Rinsema, <em>Listening in Action: Teaching Music in the Digital Age </em>(New York: Routledge, 2017).

The sensory turn is evidenced in a number of ways in which I developed and conducted the study. First, I utilised a phenomenological framework to structure the method of the study; I conducted iterative interviews with ten college students (participants), encouraging them at each interview stage to interpret their own reports of their experiences. As I mentioned earlier, Howes includes modern phenomenology under the umbrella of the sensory turn. Second, I developed the interview topics and questions from McCarthy and Wright’s Deweyan method for investigating user experiences with technology. McCarthy and Wright’s method emphasises the sensorium. The four threads of experiences that comprise the method include the sensual, the emotional, the spatiotemporal, and the compositional, of which the sensual thread is basic to the others. An additional aspect of McCarthy and Wright’s method is the way in which users make sense of their experiences of technology, which I identify as a fifth ‘metasensual’ thread. The model resulted primarily from questions related to the sensual and the metasensual threads. The method that I used to develop the model thus reflects the sensory turn first in the inclusion of the sensorium as one of the experiential threads, and second in that the sensorium is considered basic to the other threads of experience.

In what follows, I 1) describe the concept of integration in consciousness as it relates to music listening and other activities, 2) describe the features of the model, and 3) indicate how the model moves past the aesthetic paradigm, comparing it to Frith’s typology.

Integration in Consciousness (IC)

Music and activities are ‘integrated in consciousness’ when listeners maintain a degree of awareness of both the music and the activity during the music listening experience. While it is difficult to know exactly what is going on in the mental lives of the participants, there is evidence, based on the participants’ reports, that when the participants paired music and another activity, they were conscious and aware of both. Consider the following evidence. When the participants walk to class and listen to music on their devices, they report audiating, reciting the lyrics in their heads and bopping their heads to the music. At the same time, they report having some awareness of walking to class. Likewise, when participants use their playlists for the purpose of helping them fall asleep or when getting ready for the day, they report having a consistent awareness of whether the music is working for them. This awareness of whether the music is working for them seems to indicate that the participants maintain some degree of awareness of the music, as well as some degree of awareness of the other activity in which they are engaged. Even when using music to facilitate focus for studying, the participants indicate that they have some awareness of the music. One of the participants, for example, maintained that she is able to ‘follow along’ with the music that she listens to while also being consciously engaged with her schoolwork. ‘Following along’ seems to entail being conscious of the music.

The examples listed above are varied with respect to how the music and the activity are integrated. One way to conceptualise this variation is through the degree to which the participants engage with the music, the activity, or both together. Resulting from this conceptualizing, we get balanced and imbalanced integration in consciousness.

Balanced Integration in Consciousness

When participants listen to music on their devices while getting ready for the day, while falling asleep, while working out or while winding down at the end of the day, they engage consciously with the music and the activity in a balanced way. The listeners seem equally aware of the music that they are listening to and the activity that they are engaged with. The participants’ responses to the music are funnelled directly into the activity. For example, music with a quick pulse incites participants to move their bodies. When participants paired quick-pulsed music with the activity of working out, the natural physical response of moving one’s body is funnelled directly into working out. This response to the music enhances the quality of the work out.

The figure below models Balanced Integration in Consciousness. The circle labeled Nature of the Experience has been shaded grey in order to represent how the music and the activity are blended together in equal parts.

Balanced Integration in Consciousness
Figure 1: Balanced Integration in Consciousness (Source: Listening in Action. Reproduced with permission of the licensor through PLS Clear. See licensing details)

Imbalanced Integration in Consciousness

When participants listen to music on their devices while walking, riding a bus or studying, they engage consciously with the music and the activity in an imbalanced way. In the case of walking or riding a bus, the degree of conscious engagement with the music is higher than the degree of conscious engagement with the activity. This is evidenced by the nature of the participants’ responses to the music they listen to while walking or riding the bus. When participants listen to music during these types of low-order activities, their responses to music tend to be the most music specific. It is in these instances that participants reported audiation, tapping along to the music and bopping their heads. Naturally, participants also reported listening to the greatest variety of music during these types of activities. The music the participants told me they choose for walking or riding on the bus usually coincided with the type of music they reported was their favorite type of music.

The figure below models Imbalanced Integration in Consciousness with an emphasis on the music. The circle is shaded dark grey in order to represent the blending of the activity and the music in unequal parts, with the music having a greater influence on the nature of the experience.

Imbalanced Integration in Consciousness, music emphasis.
Figure 2: Imbalanced Integration in Consciousness, music emphasis (Source: Listening in Action. Reproduced with permission of the licensor through PLS Clear. See licensing details)

In the case of studying while listening to music, the degree of conscious engagement with the activity is higher than the degree of conscious engagement with the music. When participants listen to music while studying, which tends to be a high-order activity, their responses to the music tend to be the least music specific. In fact, many times the participants did not report any conscious response to the music that they listened to while studying. However, this does not necessarily mean that these participants maintained no conscious connection to the music they listened to while studying.

Naturally, participants reported listening to the least variety of musical types while studying. In most cases, participants indicated that instrumental music was their preferred type of music for studying.

The figure below models Imbalanced Integration in Consciousness with an emphasis on the activity. The circle is shaded light grey in order to represent the blending of the activity and the music in unequal parts, with the activity having a greater influence on the nature of the experience.

Imbalanced Integration in Consciousness, activity emphasis
Figure 3: Imbalanced Integration in Consciousness, activity emphasis (Source: Listening in Action. Reproduced with permission of the licensor through PLS Clear. See licensing details)

Causal Interaction

In addition to being integrated in listeners’ consciousness, music and activity are in ‘causal interaction’ with each other, meaning they can influence each other. The causal interaction between the music and the activity is represented by the horizontal arrow in the model. The influence works in both directions. Some examples of this are as follows: Participants indicated that the music they heard on their devices sometimes caused them to walk faster or slower depending on the type of music. The activity the participants engaged in influenced the music they listened to, including what they chose to listen to and how they listened to it. One participant, Leon, reported that he turned up the volume of his music when he was sitting in a coffee shop and the conversation near him became louder.

Integration in Consciousness, causal interaction
Figure 4: Integration in Consciousness, causal interaction (Source: Listening in Action. Reproduced with permission of the licensor through PLS Clear. See licensing details)

The Lens of Affordances and the Ecological View of Perception

The ecological view of perception initially developed by James Gibson and then also Susan Hurley and Eric Clarke (in the area of music) helps to further illuminate how the participants utilised the musical sounds in relation to the activities. 57[57] James J. Gibson, <em>The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception </em>(Hillsdale N.J: L. Erlbaum, 1986); Susan Hurley, <em>Consciousness in Action</em> (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2002); Eric Clarke, <em>Ways of Listening: An Ecological Approach to the Perception of Musical Meaning</em> (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005). Participant responses point to the idea that the sounds of the music afford certain activities better than others. Some music affords falling asleep better than other types of music, and some music affords getting pumped up to play basketball better than other types of music. Of course, there are variations among listeners and listeners can exercise agency in choosing music for getting pumped up for basketball that many would use for falling asleep, but there seems to be some pattern here in how music is used in relationship to activities and the idea of affordances can be used as a tool to make sense of that pattern.

Also, using the ecological view of perception, we can theorise the music and the activity as being two distinct spaces: the musical space is a virtual one while the activity space is a physical one. In their experiences, participants chose to either associate the two spaces or dissociate the two spaces. For associating the two spaces, the virtual space can inspire imaginative responses. Listeners, then, map that imaginative response onto the physical space. Or, listeners map the motion implied by the music, which exists within the virtual space of the music, onto the physical space, their bodies becoming the physical conduits for the virtual motion of the music. Finally, listeners link the aesthetic aspects of the virtual space to the aesthetic aspects of the physical space, mapping the aesthetic qualities of the virtual space onto the physical space. Here is an example of dissociation: when it is cold outside, participants might turn up their music very loud on their headphones, drowning out the physical space with the virtual space.

Other Virtual Spaces: Memories

The virtual space of music can conjure up other virtual spaces as well. Participants report that music can remind them of past listening experiences that are very often associated with people and relationships. The richness of the listening experience, thus, comes into view. When listening to music, participants navigate the real, physical space that surrounds them, the virtual space of music, and the virtual space of memories. The time element is represented in the instantiation of the IC model found below, where all past listening experiences can have an influence on a present listening experience.

Integration in Consciousness, through time
Figure 5: Integration in Consciousness, through time (Source: Listening in Action. Reproduced with permission of the licensor through PLS Clear. See licensing details)

The IC Model, Aesthetic Paradigm, and the Sensory Turn

The IC model represents a distinct departure from the aesthetic paradigm. While the aesthetic paradigm dictates a hierarchical relationship between listeners and ways of listening, based on theoretical ideals, the IC model implies no such hierarchical relationship. Rather, the model indicates a range of ways of listening along a horizontal spectrum that moves from imbalanced (emphasis on the music), to balanced (emphasis on music and activity), to imbalanced (emphasis on the activity), thereby disrupting the foreground/background distinction. Furthermore, this horizontal spectrum is not rigid, as is the case with Adorno’s typology. Instead, individuals move along the spectrum regularly depending on their emotional, physical, and psychological needs, among others (these needs are not directly specified on the model, but are addressed in the larger study).

There is some conceptual overlap between Frith’s typology and the IC model. For example, serious listening in Frith’s typology could be mapped onto the imbalanced instantiation of the model (emphasis on the music). For Frith, those who engage in serious listening attend concerts, but prefer, at least during the performance, to filter out those sensory inputs related to the activity of being at the concert (other than the performed sounds/music, of course). Furthermore, some instances of what Frith calls participatory listening could map onto the balanced instantiation of the model, for example, dancing. And, some instances of what Frith calls secondary listening could be mapped onto the imbalanced instantiation of the model, emphasis activity. However, much of what Frith calls secondary listening at live music events, I might well place toward the center of the spectrum.

Returning to how the IC model relates to the sensory turn, the ecological view of perception and its use within the IC model reflect the sensory turn. The ecological view was developed in response to the computational view of perception which privileges the sense of sight as well as the construction of an internal representation of the external world. The ecological view of perception, on the other hand, emphasises sensory input and feedback from all the senses; rather than constructing internal representations, organisms continually act and respond within environments based on continuous and direct sensory information. The ecological view of perception emerged from a quite straightforward question: ‘why would an organism develop a complicated internal representation of the external world, when it can act and engage with the external world directly?’ On the ecological view, the sensorium is the bridge between the internal and the external world, rather than an internal representation, thus reflecting the sensory turn.

Ola Stockfelt’s Possible Modes of Listening (PML) model (music theory)

Like the IC model, Stockfelt’s Possible Modes of Listening (PML) model and accompanying Foreground, Background, and Simultaneity (FBS) model, can be viewed as alternatives to Adorno and Frith’s taxonomies. The PML model was first published in 1988 as part of his dissertation, but the model, as well as Stockfelt’s concept of ‘adequate modes of listening,’ have been revisited in print several times since. They have been included in anthologies that developed and defined the area of inquiry now known as auditory culture and/or sound studies. 58[58] See, for example, Ola Stockfelt, ‘Adequate modes of listening’ in Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner (eds), <em>Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music</em> (New York: Continuum, 2004); Ola Stockfelt, ‘Adequate modes of listening’, in D. Schwarz et al. (eds) <em>Keeping Score. Music, Disciplinarity, Culture</em> (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press 1997). As I mentioned earlier, Garcia Quiñones makes a direct link between the sensory turn and the development of auditory culture/sound studies. Also, Howes, a major contributor to the development of the idea of the sensory turn, has contributed to anthologies related to auditory culture/sound studies. In what follows, I describe the PML model and compare it to Frith’s typology and the IC model.

The PML model describes listener engagements primarily with recorded musics. As such it relates more directly with the IC model than it does Frith’s typology, which focuses on live music performances. However, again there are areas of conceptual overlap. Like Frith’s typology, Stockfelt’s concept of ‘adequate modes of listening’ was developed in contrast to Adorno’s views on ‘adequate’ and ‘expert’ listeners. For Stockfelt, adequate listening depends on four factors: the situation, the music, the listener’s strategy at any given moment, and the listener’s learned repertoire of modes. The first three factors are related to one another in the way of a Venn diagram, with the adequate modes of listening located in the area of the overlap. This area of overlap is further defined and influenced by a central circle representing the listener’s learned repertoire of modes. It seems that Stockfelt’s inclusion of the learned repertoire of modes has roots in Adorno’s views, where some listeners have learned to hear structure and others have not. Generally, though, Stockfelt’s adequate listening is meant to challenge the hierarchy of Adorno’s view:

To listen adequately hence does not mean any particular, better, or ‘more musical,’ ‘more intellectual,’ or ‘culturally superior’ way of listening…Adequate listening is not a prerequisite of assimilating or enjoying music…it is (emphasis in original) a prerequisite of using music as a language in a broader sense, as a medium of real communication from composer, musician, or programmer to audience/listener. 59[59] Stockfelt, <em>Adequate Modes of Listening</em>, pp. 91–92.

Possible Modes of Listening
Figure 6: Possible Modes of Listening (Source: Listening in Action. Reproduced with permission of the licensor through PLS Clear. See licensing details)

The PML model has been criticised for not taking into account the aesthetic listening values or other values that might guide a listener in their choice of strategy. 60[60] Marta García Quiñones, ‘Historical models of music listening and theories of audition’, pp. 165–166. This criticism seems to be missing what I take to be Stockfelt’s main contribution: to establish a new value system for determining ‘good’/‘adequate’ listening. Furthermore, while the aesthetic paradigm has been deeply influential, it does not have a monopoly on all listeners’ perspectives on music listening. Indeed, I have come across a great many individuals who have no awareness of the aesthetic paradigm, concert-listening or a sense that they should be striving for the ideals resulting from them. The model proposes a way to legitimise ordinary music listening practices in reaction to the aesthetic paradigm, and the influence of the aesthetic paradigm would be sometimes present in the factor ‘listener strategy’ and/or ‘learned repertoire.’

While the PML model indicates factors for adequate listening via the Venn diagram, it does not provide a detailed account of how these factors relate to one another in practice. This is likely due to methodological constraints. The PML model resulted from an analysis of Mozart’s Symphony no. 40 and its reception. The IC model, however, provides some of this fine-grained detail; ‘activity’ in the IC model is by and large akin to ‘situation’ in the PML model. Thus, the relationship of the music and the situation in the PML model are described by the relationship of the music and the activity within the IC model. Here are a few points of contrast related to the PML and IC models. First, the agency and idiosyncratic features of the listener as represented in Stockfelt’s ‘repertoire’ and ‘strategy’ factors are taken as givens in the IC model. 61[61] The relationship between listener agency and the IC model is described in more detail in Rebecca Rinsema, <em>Listening in Action: Teaching Music in the Digital Age</em> (New York: Routledge, 2017). Second, the PML model does not directly take into account factors relating to ‘time’ (although one might argue that the ‘learned repertoire of modes’ depends on an element of time) or how each of the PML factors might have an influence on each other, as does the IC model. Finally, there remains in the PML model an emphasis on artists’ intentions and communications with audiences/listeners; the IC model does not take this into account, instead focusing on ways in which listeners create their own meanings with the music, which sometimes, but not always, fall outside artists’ intentions.

In his dissertation, Stockfelt included a companion model to the PML model called Foreground, Background, and Simultaneity (FBS) model. 62[62] Ola Stockfelt, ‘Musik Som Lyssnandets Konst: En Analys av WA Mozarts Symfoni no. 40, g moll K. 550’ (‘Music as the art of listening: an analysis of WA Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor (K. 550)’, Thesis/Dissertation, 1988.) It has received considerably less attention in the literature, but it covers some important territory, having to do with the relationship between listener modes, the nature of the musical object and artists’ intentions. In the model, Stockfelt makes a distinction between ‘composed-in’ music, where the composer intends for the music to be integrated with other art forms, for example, in opera, music videos, or film music, and ‘simultaneous’ music, in which the listener chooses to pair musics with certain activities (as in the IC model). The model implies that both ‘composed-in’ music and ‘simultaneous’ music can be in the foreground or in the background; foreground and background seem to be examples of modes of listening in the PML model.

The emphasis in the companion model on the nature of the music as an object, the artist’s intentions, as well as the usage of the terms ‘foreground’ and ‘background’ are remnants of the aesthetic paradigm. Even so, this model raises an important question for those working on music listening during and after the sensory turn: how do the musical sounds themselves influence the nature of listeners’ experiences? The IC model and its accompanying explanation appeal to the concept of affordances from the ecological view of perception to answer this question. For example, some musics are said to afford falling asleep better than other musics, and some musics are said to afford ‘getting pumped up for playing basketball’ better than others. But this explanation seems far from adequate; there is more to be said about how and why certain musics afford certain things, and just how universal such affordances tend to be. These areas of inquiry necessitate scholars to reflect back on the musical sounds themselves as well as artists’ intentions, from the new vantage point of the sensory turn.


Frith’s typology, the IC model and the PML model reflect the sensory turn in their primary focus on the listener, as opposed to the composer/artist, in order to describe the music listening today. To varying degrees, each typology/model undermines the value-laden aesthetic paradigm, which deems concert-listening superior to other forms of listening. The IC model provides the most comprehensive shift away from the aesthetic paradigm. Falling in step with the sensory turn, the IC model proposes an alternative to the reductive ‘foreground’/‘background’ distinction, which does not capture the plethora of roles music can play in everyday life in relationship to other aspects of daily life and does not leave room for the unconscious ways in which music can influence listeners. The IC model provides the opportunity to explore such things. As such, the IC model proposes a less prescriptive framework for communicating about how music is meaningful to listeners in their everyday lives when compared to the aesthetic paradigm. Stockfelt’s models and the IC model can be viewed as complementary to one another, with Stockfelt’s models directly addressing artist intentions and the IC model directly addressing the relationship between ‘activity’ and ‘music’ in real time. Stockfelt’s emphasis on artist intentions in the FBS model raises questions for those working from the ecological perspective related to how the sounds of music afford certain things and not others. This is an important area for further research.

Select bibliography

Clarke, Eric F. Ways of Listening: An Ecological Approach to the Perception of Musical Meaning. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Frith, Simon. ‘More than meets the ear: on listening as a social practice’ in Helen Barlow and David Rowland (eds), Listening to Music: People, Practices and Experiences. Milton Keynes, UK: The Open University, 2017.

Howes, David. Senses and Sensation: Critical and Primary Sources. New York: Bloomsbury, 2018.

Rinsema, Rebecca. Listening in Action: Teaching Music in the Digital Age. New York: Routledge, 2017.

Stockfelt, Ola. ‘Adequate modes of listening’ in Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner (eds), Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music. New York: Continuum, 2004.

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