When Listening Comes Alive – review


A Guide to Effective Learning and Communication

by Paul Madaule

When Listening Comes Alive is a book I have discovered by a pure accident, while reading unrelated articles in my online news aggregator app. And I am very happy for this discovery. 

It should be logical, that if my main interest is music, then the process of ‘consuming’ music must be ‘listening’. Although my goal is to promote active musicking instead of a passive listening, this book has opened my eyes and made me to look with a very different perspective on the importance of a correct listening.

There is one more interesting fact about this book and its author. I have been reading music and mindfulness related books from authors from all over the world. There is a lot going on in this field in Europe, in the US, and quite surprisingly, in Australia as well. Although I know that Canada supports a lot of research in the music and brain field, I am not aware of many publications focused on music and mindfulness. (This book is not primarily about mindfulness either, but I will get into that a bit later.)

Therefore I was very surprised when I discovered, that Paul Madaule, the author of the book this article is about, lives right here in Toronto. Originally from France, he moved here some forty years ago, with the goal to spread the ideas of his mentor Dr. Alfred Tomatis.

The name Alfred Tomatis has been popping up throughout my readings once in a while, but I never felt like giving it much attention. His books seem to be older and mostly in French and out of print. So why to bother?

It was when I have found out recently about an interesting approach to help people through listening specifically adjusted music. It is called Johansen Individualized Auditory Stimulation or JIAS after its Danish inventor Kjeld Johansen, and it is focusing on hearing, language development and developmental dyslexia. It was about hearing, listening, music and auditory stimulation — and when researching deeper, I realized, that I cannot ignore Dr. Tomatis anymore. 

When looking for books about Dr. Tomatis’s method, there was one that seemed to be  the best to start with – When Listening Comes Alive. It’s been written by Paul Madaule, who not only studied under Dr. Tomatis, but he has been practicing his method for many years. But the most importantly — as a former dyslexic, he has been a living proof of the efficacy of this method. And to my surprise, the book was available in our local library!

One thing I want to mention here is, how easy and pleasant it is to read Paul Madaule’s writing. Not sure what it is, because English is not my first language, as it is not for the author. It could be, that the topic is really attractive for me. But given the fact, that this is a very specific text from a psychologist, therapist and a Frenchman, and also the fact that I realized this quality while reading it, clearly shows that he knows very well what he is talking about and tries to make it palatable to everyone. (I just wish to learn how to write this way.)

The book is divided into three parts. In the Part 1 Listening Unveiled, Paul tells his own story from being dyslectic, to go through the auditory stimulation treatment by Dr. Tomatis and then becoming his student and practitioner of that very method. 

To quote the author: Listening is the ability to tune in on sound messages and to tune out at will; a listening problem is the inability to do it well, if at all.

Then he describes human listening apparatus and its importance for our speech, learning and language, our singing, balance and movement, ability to focus and concentrate. He also explains reasons for using Gregorian chant and especially music of Mozart for his treatments of dyslexia, autism, Attention Deficit Disorder, and a number of other ailments.

Part 2 Listening Through Life explores listening at all ages from pre-natal life all the way to retirement. It explains the importance of listening for a proper language acquisition at the early age, but also in learning other languages. Also listening related issues with communication and behaviour at school and with parents are mentioned. In the part called ‘No Retirement for Listening’ the author writes: “My extensive work with elderly people undergoing sound stimulation leads me to believe that reintroducing physical, mental and sensory activity can help slow down the progressive cycle of aging. Interest in art, walking, reading, writing, socializing, taking care of physical appearance and hygiene reappears once this kind of activity is begun. Better sleep and health, as well as a more optimistic outlook on life, are additional benefits.”

Part 3 Earobics offers ten exercises with clear descriptions, including pictures. 

Now back to the point — what has this to do with music and mindfulness. 

For quite some time my effort has been directed to find out, what role the active music making could and should play in people’s lives. It is indisputable fact, that music has the capacity to heal. But why? Or even broader question – Why do we have music? 

While researching and working in this direction, and after reading Paul Madaule’s book, I realized, that the importance of music for our lives is much higher, than most of us would be willing to accept. The importance of the ability to listen properly, to perceive and interpret  incoming sounds correctly, to be able to replicate those sounds accurately, to be able to use our sense of hearing the best possible way is obvious. Although too many of us would truly recognize this only when something goes wrong, something is missing or doesn’t work as expected. And that is when Dr. Tomatis method and Paul Madaule’s therapists in his Listening Centres come to work.

But my question here is this – Isn’t music that very tool, that the evolution gifted us with, that has all the necessary attributes to train, improve, and maintain our listening capacity? And subsequently our communicating, socializing, and learning capacities? Our relaxation ability?

This is how the author explains it in the book “Music has certainly played a key role in the development of consciousness and creativity, two unique qualities of the human species. Music fulfills a human need as fundamental as the need to eat. Thus it accompanies and supports man in the struggle for evolution.”

I consider Paul Madaul’s book with dozens of examples from his practice, as a clear affirmative to my question. He uses recorded music to help his clients improve their listening abilities. But more than that — he recommends active music making, in the form of chanting and singing. His Earobics exercises help to improve not only listening, but also body posture, breathing, speaking and potentially other health and mental benefits music can offer. 

The best way how to reap these benefits, is to make music actively and to approach this mindfully, with a clear goal to benefit from the very process of music making. (Not from music selling!)

To finalize this post, here is one interesting information, from the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Did you know that the range of human hearing, from just audible to painful, is over 100-trillion-fold? Or to put it with numbers: Scientists estimate that the human ear is sensitive to about 100,000,000,000,000 units of intensity. Also consider that a shout is about 1,000,000 times more powerful than a whisper.


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