Active Listening #9: Transference by Frances Pollock

Active Listening is a series that unites composers with audiences who care about social justice. The goal of this series is to inspire empathy, educate listeners, and offer steps to actively support each cause. Each composer has chosen to address a social justice issue they feel passionate about, and with each installment, actions which listeners can take are provided.  A new installment of this 10-part performance video and interview series will be released on the first Wednesday of each month through September 2019, featuring works commissioned and performed by pianist Lior Willinger. This project has been funded by an award from the Presser Foundation.

This penultimate Active Listening installment centers on how we engage in political discourse. Democracy is strengthened by a diversity of voices. Considering divergent perspectives on complex issues should illuminate a path forward. As we approach a heated election campaign season, it’s imperative to realize that our thoughts, ideas, and values are more nuanced than just red and blue, black and white. Disagreements are inevitable, but being able to talk through them is invaluable. Occasionally, we can find some common ground. For instance, more than 90% of Americans support universal background checks. (Check out Active Listening #8 for more thoughts on gun reform.) We often can also work to change each other’s opinions. For any chance to move others, we must first offer an open mind and a patient ear if we hope for receptiveness in return.

Transference by Frances Pollock

Transference refers to unknowingly redirecting feelings you have about an individual onto someone else. In putting this into music, Frances begins the work with brief statements. Each utterance picks up a characteristic from previous one until an organic, continuous line is formed from the opening ideas. This represents an ideal back-and-forth communication between individuals in which commonalities are found and differences are understood. As the music progresses, the exchange of simple ideas breaks down as the language becomes increasingly hostile and oppositional.

So what can we do?

Frances offers the following:

  1. Read. Read everything. Read works by people who are different than you, read alternate histories written by scholars of that area, read think pieces by people who are of a different race, age, gender, region, religion, etc. from you, read things that are different from what your peers and colleagues are reading.
  2. Always position yourself in the world. Do your best to understand what you represent in the world. You do this by reading and studying other cultures.
  3. Listen and ask questions. Perspective is primarily built out of real-world experience. We are constantly reinforcing the narratives we think we understand. Does someone have a drastically different opinion than you? Ask them about it and consider how they developed that perspective. I’ve never seen a mind permanently changed by name-calling.
  4. Don’t be afraid to challenge a perspective. If someone says something that offends you, point it out and ask for their time to discuss it.
  5. Be kind. This has and always will be the most important thing you can do to another person.

The recording of Transference is available for download on Bandcamp. All proceeds from the sale of this track will go to support Tonality, a “choral spectrum” whose mission is to promote peace, unity, and understanding to a fractured and divided community. The group, which consists of members of various ages, backgrounds, and professions, celebrates our shared humanity through diverse musical styles and languages.

To achieve real progress, we need to work harder at understanding one another. We grow by caring deeply about one another and trying our best to make sense of the world by seeing through each other’s eyes, feeling through each other’s hearts, and listening to each other’s hopes and fears.

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