The joy of shared listening

One of the things I will miss most in Florida is the shared film music listening I did with a good friend and fellow film score nerd. I owe Nathan a wealth of gratitude for introducing me to Film Score Monthly and to many, many great scores.

Our “roundtables,” as they were nerdily christened, were informal, somewhat spontaneous events. I would visit him at his apartment (and, more recently, his newlywed town home), where we would rant and rave about recent film music news or discoveries, intermingled with several hours of listening on his splendid surround sound. These events were typically prompted by one or both of us obtaining new music we wanted to share, but the excuses to get together were usually pretty thin and effortless to conjure.

What developed out of these times, aside from an increased bond of friendship, was the unique joy of shared listening.

Nathan and I met in college seven years ago, and it wasn’t long before we learned of our mutual obsession with film music. When you find a comrade in one of your driving passions, the natural inclination is to share—opinions, news, and in our case, the music itself. My frequent loans from Nathan’s ridiculously massive library awakened my senses to the incredible oeuvre of Goldsmith, and slowly softened my heart to the beauty of Horner’s music.

These are common experiences for people with shared interests who congregate on message boards and in chat rooms. The great distinction, though, was our ability to sit in the same room and actually listen to the music.

In reading a biography on Bernard Herrmann (Steven C. Smith’s A Heart at Fire’s Center), I’ve discovered that Herrmann did the very same thing with his friends and dinner guests. For Herrmann it was typically symphonies by Mahler and Ralph Vaughan Williams rather than film music, but he too found deep pleasure in sharing music he loved with his friends. Those friends commented later that these evenings of shared listening, abetted by Herrmann’s boyish enthusiasm, planted the seeds of their own appreciation for the composers and works shared.

In my essay on tastes, I suggested that we often learn to love something by observing someone else love it. This is one of the many rewards of shared listening. Nathan and I often shared music we guessed the other person would love ahead of time (even if we weren’t always right), but we also shared music with the intention of changing each other’s mind about a composer or opening their eyes to something new or different (even if we weren’t always successful). It proved impossible for me to remain hardhearted towards Horner when Nathan lit up with such fervor every time he exposed me to a new (or old) Horner score.

Nathan likes plenty of scores and composers that (as of today) simply fail to resonate with my sensibilities, and vice versa. But the manifold joys and education of our shared listening roundtables have broadened my horizons and augmented my ever growing enthusiasm for this singular cut of music, the film score. On top of all that, there’s simply an extra level of enjoyment had when you share something you love with a true comrade.

It would thrill me to pop in at Nathan’s right now and listen, one more time, to the track from Poledouris’ Quigley Down Under, on the system where I was first introduced to it; blazing guitar pouring out of one speaker, rapid-fire banjo from another. Not least because I still don’t own the score myself, but even if  I did, listening to it alone just wouldn’t be the same.