March 31, 2015

Tomatis: Listening vs Hearing

Tomatis: Having followed the métier of my father and become an ear, nose and throat specialist, I was looking into the problem of hearing loss among aircraft workers, but at the same time was treating an operatic baritone—the leading baritone, in fact, of all Europe at the time. He was having difficulty singing in tune, and specialists all over had told him it was because his chords were stretched, too slack. So they were giving him strychnine; at first I was even doing that too, doubling and tripling the doses with no success. 

Then one day I decided to give him the same test as the factory workers, and the first surprise was that there appeared to be the first stages, in him, of the same kind of loss—the beginnings of professional deafness. He'd been singing for a long time, which lead me to the hypothesis that singers over a long period of time could damage their own ears, which would lead to professional deafness. And what I found after looking at hundreds of singers was a deficiency around the frequency of 4,000 cycles, which is about an octave above the range of a flute. It was the same deficiency as I had found with workers exposed to factory noise. When the loss reached down into the area of 1,000 and 1,500 Hz, I found that singers had real trouble with control of pitch. From this I concluded that there was a range of response with allows one to sing in tune. I called this the "musical ear." 

Marie-Andrée Michaud: One can hear, but not listen, isn't that so?

Tomatis: That's the case with most people. And the more I go into it, the more I'm convinced that those who know how to listen are the exceptions. Most people hear, they're equipped with ears, and think that they have reached the summit. No. That's a passive phenomenon—you let yourself be bathed in sound, but you don't integrate any of it. But listening is integrating, and the will is an essential part of it, so that we go from a passive phenomenon to an active one. Amongst other things, listening has an advantage because if you make the ear work to its full potential, it acts as a charging dynamo for the cortex. The more the listener knows how to listen, the more he is stimulated. 

And it goes much further than the ear. It's the whole body which reaches out to listen. You become an antenna, which leads to verticality. And immediately the voice becomes more beautiful. The more you speak and sing well, the more you charge the brain; the more it is charged, the more you want to speak, the greater the ability to formulate your thoughts, and the feedback loop between the voice and the ear is closed. The better you feel, the more you sing; the more you sing, the better you feel. And your consciousness rises at the same time. 

—Marie-Andrée Michaud, "One Who Listens Speaks: An Inverview with Dr. Alfred Tomatis," Pre-and Peri-Natal Psychology, 4(1), Fall 1989

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