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Harvard Magazine: Toward Cultural Citizenship

by Jonathan Shaw

New gateways into the humanities for students “still fully molten as human beings”

Thomas Rowlandson’s view of the library of the Royal Institution in London, circa 1810

One day in the early spring of 2013, Alexander Rehding asked the students in his graduate seminar to join him in experiencing the sound of silence. As he led them through an exercise in deep listening, the students sat quietly for 15 minutes, becoming calm, and bending their attention to the sounds around them. “Over time, your listening experience fundamentally changes,” the Peabody professor of music said later. “You become much more attuned to the very quiet background noises that we normally just ignore. Many of the students report that, after a while, they stop trying to identify what the sounds are and where they are coming from. The sounds surround us, and everything becomes musical in a way.”

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