How We Listen by Aaron Copland

Intention: Copland informs us on the subject of music and the various ways that we listen to it. According to him, the different planes we listen on are the sensuous plane, the expressive plane, and the musical plane. Each plane of listening has its own purpose and advantages and knowing about them can help us enrich our listening experience.

Ethos: Copland is a composer and therefore has a lot of experience on the topic of music. He has had many experiences of listening to music and watching others listen to music. When he explains each o the planes, he talks about them with purpose and certainty, making him more believable and trustworthy.

Pathos: The writing style that Brady chose does not portray pathos. Any pathos that the reader feels, is formed due to the reader’s own memories. When Brady talks about the various themes and moods music can have, it can remind the reader of their own experiences listening to music and the feelings it stirred in them.

“Let us suppose that you are fortunate and can describe to your own satisfaction in so many words the exact meaning of your chosen theme. There is still no guarantee that anyone else will be satisfied. Nor need they be. The important thing is that each one feel for himself the specific expressive quality of a theme or, similarly, an entire piece of music. And if it is a great work of art, don’t expect it to mean exactly the same thing to you each time you return to it.”

The quote above is a great example of one Brady’s main points in this piece. This piece also acts as a persuasive piece where he tries to convince us that only great works create different emotions for each listener and that your interpretation of the piece can change each time you listen to it

-Sierra Houser

Intention: Copland’s intention is to educate his readers on the three main ways people listen to music, and to encourage readers to listen in a more complex way.

Delayed intention: The essay begins with a very in-depth description of the three planes on which we listen to music. Moreover, the beginning portion of the essay is dedicated completely to educating his readers, and he does not take a stance on the subject until the end. It isn’t until the last few paragraphs that readers realize he is convincing them to have a more “active and complex” way of listening to music. The essay’s intention is unknown until after explaining the planes. This is beneficial to his arrangement because most of his readers are uneducated. They have no idea which plane they listen with, and they have no idea how they should be listening. Therefore, if he didn’t delay his intention, readers would not yet understand the three planes and the essay would have been incomprehensible to them.

Rhetorical questions: Copland tries to anticipate his readers’ questions and objections at many points in the essay. For example, he uses rhetorical questions when discussing the sensuous plane: “‘Is there a meaning to music?’ My answer to that would be, ‘Yes.’ And ‘Can you state in so many words what the meaning is?’ My answer to that would be, ‘No.’” He includes the thoughts of his readers to emphasize his point and to engage the audience. It also gives him ethos because it implies that he is speaking directly to each reader, as well as implies that he can read their mind.

Allusion: Copland further educates and convinces his readers using allusions. He directly references specific composers, fugues, and symphonies, and even encourages readers to listen to them on their own. For example, he says, “Listen, if you can, to the forty-eight fugue themes of Bach’s Well Tempered Clavichord. Listen to each theme, one after another. You will also soon realize that the more beautiful a theme seems to you the harder it is to find any word that will describe it to your satisfaction.” He uses these references in hopes that they will increase his ethos/credibility, appeal to the readers’ senses, and convince them even more.

–Lauren Wetsch

Tone: Copland has a tone that is almost condescending to many readers who are not well versed in music.   The piece itself is informative about how people can listen to music but it’s directed at an audience with some background in music making it sound condescending.  Copland uses words like “primitive” to show that most people don’t listen to music properly and only hear music on the most basic level.  His use of language down talks different at some points calling them “simple-minded souls.”

Logos: For anyone verse in music or that possess a musical background, what Copland is explaining makes a lot of sense.  He backs what he is saying up with examples of other composers’ music and explains his reasoning in logical ways.  Though some of it is abstract, it makes sense because we have experienced some of these feelings first hand.

“Yes, the sound appeal of music is a potent and primitive force, but you must not allow it to usurp a disproportionate share of your interest.  The sensuous plane is an important one in music, a very important one, but it does not constitute the whole story.”  This quote feels personal because Copland uses the second person.  It’s relatable for the reader because it is easy to just swept away but how a song sounds but the sound is only half the story.  It gives an example of what Copland means when he says there are more ways to listen to music than just one.  It doesn’t discount sensuous listening like the rest of the piece seems to do.

–Steph Lohbeck


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