Thursday, March 09, 2017

Memory, expectations and communication.

As a boy I took part in a number of choir performances in London of Bach's Matthew Passion. (Some of the pieces in this work include a line for a boy's choir). The music was very memorable and I can still recall it very well four decades later. I particularly remember and enjoy listening to the very first chorus, "Come Ye Daughters, share my mourning."

Now here is the interesting thing. Because I have a strong memory of this piece in English, when I listen to a recording of this piece in another language - such as this one in German by the Berlin National Cathedral Choir accompanied by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra - I hear it in English unless I make a conscious effort to listen to what is actually being sung.

In some ways - as for instance, in that I have access to an instant translation - this power of memory is a strength. But it can be a weakness if we do not pay adequate attention when something different to what we expected is being communicated.

It is often said that "we see what we expect to see." It is also true that we often hear what we expect to hear. How many political misunderstandings occur because we insist on thinking that someone has said what we expected them to say, instead of listening and finding out what they actually said?

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