Once upon a time, books were something very special – not mere repositories of bullet-pointed knowledge, but containers of true magic whose words could unfetter the imagination and conjure into being a genuine sense of wonder.
It seems to me that as the internet age comes to maturity there has been a concurrent if unexpected reappraisal and renewed appreciation of the tactile immersion made possible by a traditional, high-quality physical book.
Riding the crest of an exciting wave of publications crafted to the highest standard, and with a deliberate nod towards the publishing values of an earlier generation, comes a small but highly significant volume by Mark Tanner entitled Mindfulness in Music, published by Leaping Hare Press as an imprint within their ongoing series of mindfulness-related books.
The book is an inspirational delight from cover to cover (and including the covers themselves!) and I highly commend it to Pianodao readers as the “must-read” book of the season…
Mindfulness in Music comes as a small hardback book, around the size of a standard paperback novel, and a modest 144 pages in length. Cream paper is used, making the book easier to read on the beach this summer without white glare.
Flicking through the book, it is immediately clear that considerable attention has been paid to giving the book an engaging design.
There are well-apportioned chapters, clean section headings, occasional black-and-white illustrations based on the cover image, and regular box-out sections which expand on particular points, allowing for meandering reflection at the reader’s whim and interest.
Although I have not seen other books in this (quite large) series, I would assume that this volume follows a house design that brings similar values and quality to the other related books (which cover an interesting range from such titles as The Mindfulness in Knitting to – for me more tempting! – The Art of Mindful Singing).
Mark Tanner is in my view the perfect choice of writer for a book about Mindfulness in Music, his outstanding previous book The Mindful Pianist earning high praise in my review here.
Much as I loved that previous book – and in particular for its wealth of expert pianistic advice – I’m tempted to declare that I enjoyed reading this one even more. Here, Tanner takes a broader view of music, and of life as a whole – and writes for the general reader, not the performing musician.
Painting these broader strokes certainly suits the author well – as he embarks on his excursion of mindful reflections on the power and place of music in our lives, he certainly seems to be writing at the top of his game, comfortably at ease with his discursive subject matter, and seemingly let loose to playfully explore the terrain in which he freshly finds himself.
There are six chapters, which I will discuss in a moment, preceded by an Introduction which is really a chapter in itself. There’s also a useful (if short) Bibliography for further reading and a list of websites which readers might like to explore (including Pianodao – thanks Mark!).
So let’s dig into the content further, and take a bird’s eye view of what you can expect to find in Mindfulness in Music…
Introduction & Variations
In his Introduction, Tanner sets the tone and direction that the book will follow, writing:
“Mindfulness and meditation resonate naturally with all forms of music, prompting us to listen with new ears and increase our receptiveness to beautiful sounds. Regardless of whether you are an avid music lover or a keen practitioner, a heightened awareness of music’s organic qualities will open up an astonishing world of possibilities.”
Expanding on his theme, the author encourages us to lay aside our preconceptions and questionable assumptions, embracing our musical journey with an open and attentive mind. He stressed that music is not just for musicians – encouraging us to reconsider music’s elevating qualities and listen with renewed purpose and attention.
Chapter One proper is entitled Music as Meditation. Here Mark Tanner explores the impact of music in our lives, how it speaks to us, and the way it occupies our thoughts – the language of musical memory, and the importance of “reclaiming the peace in our heads”.
His thought-provoking conclusion:
“In a nutshell, mindfulness in music is about nodding approvingly at sounds as they appear on our radar, rather than becoming locked in an exhausting mental debate. Music is part of our shared heritage, but not all music is capable of all things. Nevertheless, the music we find particularly conducive to mindfulness will help us to achieve that most magical of sensations: a mind and body in natural resonance with each other.”
Chapter Two delves deeper into what this “conducive” music might be, exploring the worlds of “ambient music” and encouraging us to listen to “biomusic”, while also introducing thoughts about the relationship between music and movement, including short sections advocating Qigong and Tai Chi, Alexander Technique, and comfortable posture. Tanner also offers some fascinating ideas about music and sleep.
In the third Chapter, Sound and Sensuality, the author considers the beauty of sound itself, suggesting:
“Being alive to natural sound starts with heightening our level of awareness: expecting beauty, yet still delighting in its discovery. From here we become better tuned in to our environment, and at the same time more in resonance with the music we know and love.”
Here Tanner cleverly brings us from the outer expanse of nature noise back to music, via a discussion of vibrations and synaesthesia.
Following on from this turning point, Chapter Four The Language of Music explores the ambiguity of musical language before grounding us back in the world of the heightened senses, taking in expression, sensation and emotional meaning within the newly relevant context of musical notation and organised meaning – a journey which the author continues to flesh out in Chapter Five, Parallel Universes.
In the final Chapter, The Art of Possibility, Mark Tanner brings us fully back to the grounded reality of the musician – with suggestions that the reader might take up an instrument, develop their creativity through improvisation, and a consideration of the concept of musical talent.
In many ways then, Mindfulness in Music is a book which takes us on an arc – from the present moment to infinity, and back again.
In summary, Mindfulness in Music opens a doorway, stepping through which we can completely reboot our Musical lives.
At risk of adding cliché to hyperbole, Mindfulness in Music is not simply a book to read, but to cherish. A quick read through this book will certainly reward, but I encourage you to take it in slowly, allowing time for its message to sink in, and for your own reflection.
That the physical book itself is such a joy to behold – and indeed to hold – is of course a bonus: were the content itself not outstanding however, Mindfulness in Music would merely manifest the triumph of spin over substance, and of form over function. Happily no such concerns have any place here, because this slim volume contains riches of wisdom which transcend its small size.
This does not mean the book will please everyone of course – but those with a humble mind and open heart will undoubtedly find Mindfulness in Music an extraordinarily rewarding read.
You may not find yourself persuaded by every argument, or agreeing with every detail (I didn’t), but to expect to would be to miss the point; a book which merely reaffirms our existing confirmation bias has little value. What Mark Tanner offers here is far more illuminating – a book which inspires reflection, and which challenges and delights in equal measure.
In my review of The Mindful Pianist I concluded:
“If I have a criticism of this book, it is that it somewhat eschews its publicised intent. Calling the book The Mindful Pianist is perhaps a high-risk strategy … those hoping for clear, decisive connections to be drawn between piano playing and the benefits of the mindfulness practice popular in today’s culture might find slim rewards in this book.”
This book decisively fills that noted gap, making it the perfect companion to Mark Tanner’s previous volume, and tracing vivid connections between mindfulness and music which are not only tangible, but also genuinely thrilling.
Mindfulness in Music is essential reading.