By February 4, 2010 2 Comments Read More →

Listening Groups

listeningThe big news at my library is a once-in-a-lifetime donation of around 8000 music CDs from a local collector. Despite all the press about people switching to digital music, our CD collection is circulating faster than ever, with longer hold lists and more patron requests, so this donation is a timely boon. But what, you might be asking, does this have to do with book groups?

Although I’m an audiophile, I haven’t tried a listening group yet, but I’m intrigued. Such groups are growing in popularity, and as the use of the often headphone-bound digital music grows, I predict that more people will try to find outlets to talk about music they’re experiencing in isolation.

Acquaintances in listening groups have described their activities, which invite interesting comparisons to book groups. Just as book groups analyze particular works, a listening group may analyze a particular album, with the added bonus that there is time to experience much of that work during the meeting. As book groups exchange facts about the author, listening groups discuss the musicians and composers involved and compare the merits of their other works. As readers address themes, listeners bring favorite selections by particular performers, or from a genre, historical period, or country’s musical output. Just as readers discuss how a work has affected them, listening groups also discuss their feelings or tell stories about how a song has intersected with their lives.

In other ways, listening groups differ. The component parts that come together to produce a piece of music involve more people, and their roles are more easily identifiable than those that go into making a book. Listeners discuss the instruments and playing styles utilized. They examine the output of lyric writers, composers, and session players. Influences on the performers can be more easily identified than those on authors, and the backlog of those performers’ works take less time to explore. Groups can listen to alternate versions and recordings of the same song.

Hardcore audiophiles may go even further. For instance, many can identify the “sound” of a particular producer or studio. I’ve been told of a group that can often guess the location, a particular studio or concert hall, where a song was recorded, based on the sound. Some listening groups even go so far as to bring sheet music of the pieces they are examining. Musicians in the group may attempt live performance of portions of the work.

Book clubs might consider an occasional evening of listening. If the group needs a change, or if preparation time is short for an upcoming meeting, music makes a great diversion. One of the groups I participate in had a wonderful evening when we brought in a working Victrola and listened to old 78s. We’ve also listened to songs or performers mentioned in the books we’ve read. I’m sure creative book groups have found other ways to make music part of their meetings.

Music’s definitely a big part of my forseeable future… Back to processing all those donations!

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

2 Comments on "Listening Groups"

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  1. bmead@readinggroupchoices.com' Barbara says:

    Yes, listening groups are making a comeback! What happen to going over to a friend’s house to just hear the new 45 or album they purchased — dancing and talking about that music? Tom Moon, author of 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die, has paired books and music for Reading Group Choices. Tom also has a great brochure on listening groups and general questions to help the music conversation along. Please let us know if you need some copies of his brochure.

  2. Kaite Stover says:

    Check out this earlier post http://bookgroupbuzz.booklistonline.com/2009/09/06/2678/

    I talked about a little publication called Listening Group Guide. It’s perfect for the above.

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