Beginners Ear

A musical journey inward

by Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim

As a music critic writing for The New York Times I’ve attended a lot of concerts. Sometimes 100 a year, spanning a dazzling variety of styles and periods, performers and venues. Most of the time, my attention was focused on the musicians and what and how they were playing. That was my job, after all.

But in December 2018, I attended a concert that directed my focus inward, onto the process of listening itself. The event, at Princeton University, invited audience members to take part in a short guided meditation practice at the beginning of the recital. When the music began, it unfolded inside a space of such concentrated silence that the sounds rang out in brilliant clarity. I remember the uncanny feeling that the music was coming from inside of me, that the barrier between me and not-me had dissolved — advanced stuff to a novice meditator like me.

I created Beginner’s Ear in order to bring transformational listening experiences to more people in a greater variety of spaces. (The name alludes to the Zen concept of the Beginner’s Mind, an ideal state of openness free from preconceptions.) Over the past year I presented live music meditations in a yoga studio, an independent high school, a dance studio, a federal prison, the showroom of Yamaha pianos, and in the wonderfully soundproofed Greene Space in SoHo that belongs to New York Public Radio.

Each time, I saw my own experience reflected back in the reactions of participants. People told me they had never felt so close to the music. That the concerts felt cathartic. Medicinal, even.

I have long wanted to bring the Beginner’s Ear model to an outdoor setting, to see how music interwoven with sounds of nature lands in such a mindful state of listening. The restrictions forced upon us by the coronavirus gave that idea added urgency.

On August 2, I invite you to dive into a delicious hour and a half of guided meditation, live chamber music and conversation inside the magical sunken garden at Caramoor. Two stellar principals from the New York Philharmonic, the clarinetist Anthony McGill and the harpist Nancy Allen, will take us on a sonic journey of mesmerizing works — many of them arrangements — by composers including Fauré, Satie, and Messiaen. The meditation will be led by Adreanna Limbach, a delightfully down-to-earth Buddhist teacher and author of the book Tea and Cake with Demons. I will moderate a conversation with musicians and participants at the end that — even as we maintain a safe distance from one another on the grass — aims to deepen our sense of connection.

Join us on August 2 for Beginner’s Ear. Capacity is very limited!

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