« Practice and Imagination | Blog home

Music and education have lost a most significant caretaker in Australia. Those fortunate to have learnt from the conductor and educator Richard Gill will always remember his tireless passion for music and his unlimited enthusiasm for humanity. Richard was inspired by possibility. An unequivocal love for possibility distinguishes the musician, the educator and the artist. In our passion for possibility, music and education converge. Such passion nourishes and renews humanity when it is carried by a commitment to beauty and truth. “Together with their students, teachers embark on the search for the lost wisdom how to be a human being” writes the philosopher Georg Picht. Gill was such a teacher.

More specifically, Richard Gill was an exemplary custodian of the art of listening. This made him at the same time also an exemplary custodian of musicians. Listening is fundamental to humanity. It is substantially formed by music and it can substantially form listeners. Music contributes most to such formation as it always demands more from the listener and from the musician. For musical listening is not finished by having merely heard. Musical listening reaches out, recognises and validates the other to gain its most profound insight from the perspective that is essentially not its own. True listening always transcends the individual listener through active attention to the other.

In everyday life, listening is seemingly familiar. Yet, as our decreasing ability for genuine dialogue in public life indicates, listening is becoming increasingly difficult and rare. We hear much, but we notice little. We talk, argue and debate, but we rarely listen beyond such talk, argument and debate. Our listening is as noisy as our talk. Some might argue that this development is intended. Amplified stimuli exhaust our attention, deafen our ears and blunt our minds. People who can not listen can be manipulated. They are easily lead.

Against advancing deafness, genuine listening affirms the freedom of human existence and spirit. Genuine listening does not merely process acoustic stimuli. It is not limited to reactive perception but follows creative imagination. It is the responsibility of the autonomous individual. It is a profoundly human activity. Genuine listening intuits and anticipates what is about to be heard. At the same time it retains and questions. It must reflect and confirm that what is heard makes sense. The dual consciousness of listening reflects our temporal existence, our extension within a temporal flux from past to future. Listening is actively finding meaning in the always decaying and renewing flux of reality. Human existence is part of this flux. Some aspects of our being seek to arrest it. An ambitious pursuit of comprehensive knowledge and objectification is driven by our desire to overcome transience – an essentially Faustian endeavour with potentially Faustian consequences. We forget too readily that in the face of a chaotic, mysterious becoming, humanity cannot hold fast and defiantly assert its objectified simplifications. It must learn to listen, its intentional activities bridging the distance between mere hearing and anticipatory, retentive attention. Those who truly listen do not only hear more and better - they will hearken! Through listening we reach beyond the reality of appearances, beyond the many things, the mesmerising events and the exciting happenings that distract our lives. Through listening we reach for the transcendent realm where humanity finds itself and its essence.

In his educational and artistic work with musicians Richard Gill inspired huge numbers of listeners of all backgrounds, abilities and interests over many decades. One Leitmotiv remains dominant: the quest for the best listener. “We are looking for the best listeners,…” Richard Gill would beam into the audience of school children and discovery concert audiences alike. Indeed. We are still looking for the best listeners and we always should be!

Richard Gill showed and argued why listening matters and how it is developed. For one, the listening ear is never finished. The possibilities of listening are endless. Listening requires passion and skill. It requires single minded attention, resilience and compassion – even the failure to hear must renew our attention and our resolve to listen. Listening is learnt. Its traditions are passed on. It requires training and method and it requires leaders and teachers with truthful ears and hearts. Richard Gill exemplified the conservation of listening that is at the heart of our civilisation and of our culture of music and education with which traditionally a Conservatorium is charged. His work establishes leading, timeless ideals for anyone contributing to such a task.

Listening that is always present and close also seems the least noticed and the least understood. Richard Gill had a miraculous gift to show its mysterious importance without unnecessary abstraction but with passionate attention and inspiring imagination. He leaves a silence into which we must listen. His memory compels us towards renewing attention, towards a stronger resolve to listen, towards more purpose in the collective pursuit of music and the thoughtful engagement with education and most importantly towards real hearkening to the truthful possibilities of humanity.