the art of listening


“The betrayal and perversion of knowledge is not a lesson from the past but a condition of the present.” Les Back, The Art of Listening

I often inter-library loan books on whims. Then later if I can’t recall the whim when they arrive they are like a gift from a past self. I wonder why I sought them out, but then usually when I look at them, I find them interesting in and of themselves even if I don’t remember why I inter-library loaned them.

The Art of Listening by Les Back arrived at my local library recently. I received notice that my inter library loan book was available. I picked it up yesterday. I don’t remember why I sought this book out.

Les Back is a sociologist. This book seems to be an argument for what sociology is “needed for today?” (in the words of the first sentence in the introduction).

Back’s introduction draws the reader into a world of confronting death and life in interesting and dramatic ways. He says that the origin of this book was when he was reading reader’s proofs of a previous book to his dying father.

“I didn’t want him to die among strangers so I stayed with him through the night. I took my manuscript with me and read it at his bedside.”

He reads and listens to his father’s breathing. He has an epiphany about the value and importance of his own work.

Without entirely disclosing the insight he received, he immediately launches into a discussion of Kierkegaard’s comment that thinking is like a dance with Death. It is our mortality that makes us the most honest with ourselves, Kierkegaard is in effect saying.

Later Back quotes Saul Bellow: “Death is the dark backing a mirror needs if we are to say anything.”

Back comes up for some air after this dismal stuff and observes “Clinicians and nurses who care for the terminally ill believe that hearing is the last of our senses to leave us. Hearing is our final link to the external world. In what follows, it will be argued that listening is important for this reason; it is a fundamental medium for human connection, which is often taken for granted, assumed mistakenly to be self-evident. However, I argue that the capacity to hear has been damaged and is in need of repair. This is what sociology is for, and, as a consequence, why it is a listener’s art.” p.5

Jupe the Composer update

It was fun to hear Rhonda play the organ part of my Pentecost suite yesterday morning. I enjoyed chatting with her about it. In the course of doing this I discovered that I still haven’t found the  final version of this piece in a Finale file. Since it was eleven years ago, I have changed computers too many times I guess. But I do have a copy of the printed version Rhonda and Dave are playing from. This means that I will have to take some time and use their performance version to update what files I have been using. (O my god. I just realized that the improved marimba part I did for this performance was based on an older version of this piece. I will have to hustle and re-edit the marimba part to fit the organ part. Good grief!)

Rhonda asked me for a bio for her program. This is what I emailed her.

Steve Jenkins plays piano and organ for Grace Episcopal Church in Holland, Michigan. He also conducts the choir. He improvises piano accompaniment to Ballet Classes at Hope College. His compositions and observations can be  found at

What do you think? I wanted to use verbs to describe myself not nouns. We’ll see if Rhonda uses it.

I also tested out my easy version of “March” by Holst. Here’s a link. I am pretty happy with having the option of the easier bass line in this version. They are both on my “Free mostly original sheet music” page.

4 thoughts on “the art of listening

  1. Nice and simple, the bio…. But you didn’t mention books. If I made a bio, I’d have to mention you read and study a lot.

  2. Ok – two comments, which you probably won’t even read, being away now.
    But 1 – whadda ya mean “we’ll see if she uses it?” What else would I use?
    and 2. – why is it too late to add anything about books?
    It’s too late if you aren’t checking email anymore, but I can attempt to add something about books and studying, using verbs, even if you don’t see this before Tuesday morning…

  3. Rhonda,

    My comment, “we’ll see if she uses it” was only to refer to the actual provisional nature of my suggestions. I wasn’t 100 per cent sure my bio would fit what you expected from me. That’s all.

    So, how about adding this:

    Steve Jenkins plays piano and organ for Grace Episcopal Church in Holland, Michigan. He also conducts the choir. He improvises piano accompaniment to Ballet Classes at Hope College. Besides composing, he enjoys reading, research and conversation. His compositions and observations can be found at

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