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Do You Hear What I Hear?

Sound is a vital part of intellectual enrichment. How can we more consciously engage ourselves with our auditory environment?

As a highly auditory person, when I read, I do not form images as much as I hear the words in my mind. Artistically, I cannot create visual representations of the world with any accuracy. I realized that is because my brain does not as readily absorb visual details. In contrast, since I was a child, I have been able to accurately imitate sounds--from music notes and vocal styles to foreign accents and character voices. I have concluded that my brain processes sound waves in much greater detail than light waves. Do you have a visual or an auditory preference?

Regardless of your preference, you can increase your awareness and ability with personal effort, or training. I can increase my ability to perceive and utilize nuances of light to create realistic art if I get help from someone who has those skills and awareness. How aware are you of the sounds around you?

Right now, I hear crickets and the uneven rotation of my ceiling fan (plus, of course, the loud clatter of the keyboard) and an occasional car passing by. Did you know crickets sound different in Texas than they do in the northwestern mountains? I have lived in both places for a long time. Texas crickets have a flatter tone. Northern crickets have a more elevated, musical pitch. I can't name the pitch or frequency difference. I just know that the sound of the northern crickets gives me warm, happy memories of childhood like listening to crickets in Texas never did.

Isn't that crazy that a sound can bring back a feeling of an entire era? Like the crickets, the first strains of Simple Minds' "Don't You (Forget About Me)" takes me back to the camper trailer I used for my bedroom and the crisp, spring air that my heightened thirteen-year-old hormones embedded into my soul. Musical teleportation.

All of our sensory experience gives us information about our environment from which to make observations and draw conclusions. That is why the senses are vital components of the intellectual neural network. And we tend to take all of it for granted.

Whether it's the peaceful sounds of nature or a raucous concert, sound alters our mood and can impact our awareness of self and others. With noise canceling headphones, we can escape from the external environment and immerse ourselves in a private world. Sound can isolate us. But it also has tremendous power to unify us. A religious congregation in hymns of praise or a stadium of Taylor Swift fans can feel intensely connected through the power of music.

Listening, however, is only half of the power of sound. When you speak, play instruments, create rhythms, or sing, you become the owner of sound. You become one who shapes the environment. Your active participation increases your sense of connection. Even if you can't sing (you can, but we can unpack that another time) you can cheer, clap, or vocalize so that your sound waves mix with others and those vibrations amplify your connection to your environment.

Take time to be present with the sounds around you. Speak or sing into the world. Let your voice belong to you, and let your voice belong to the world. We belong. (And now I am singing Pat Benetar)

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