Why I listen to music at the gym

Listening to music I like is, for all practical purposes, a religious experience.

Going to the gym is decidedly not.

My wife and I recently joined one, and this week I’ve finally carved out the time to make a somewhat regular practice of going.

It has reminded me why I allowed myself to lapse.  It’s not pleasant.

The first few times, I didn’t bring my iPod.  It’s funny — the older I’ve gotten, the less able I’ve been to listen to music as a background to something else I’m doing.  Music demands more and more of my attention these days.  The net effect of this is that, rather than spending discrete times of day listening to music and focusing on it, sadly, I’ve just been listening to less music.  I know other composers who have said similar things, so even if I’ve wished I could spend more time listening, I haven’t felt too strange about the way things are.

It looks like going to the gym is going to help me change that.

There are all kinds of reasons one might put on earphones when one exercises — not the least of which are to block out the din of the lousy ambient music one often hears at gyms, or to help pass the time otherwise spent mindlessly lifting heavy things and putting them down.

For me, the best reason is that listening to music reminds me of what’s important in life, and why the heck I’m going to the gym in the first place.  I want to be around for years to come to share music with my family, friends, colleagues, students, mentors, and anyone else I might meet.  Moreover, it turns out that while spending hours every day composing in front of a piano or computer is spiritually rewarding, it is not particularly salubrious.  Making music requires, above all, time.  If I want the most time in which to make music, I must first take care of my body and make sure I’m living a healthy life.

So, lately, as I grind through my workout, I listen, and I remember.  I do it with the conviction that, while working out is unpleasant, being out of shape, getting sick, and/or dying before one’s time are all much more unpleasant.  Listening regularly while working out is helping me keep faith in what I’m doing.  In that sense, heck, maybe going to the gym really is a religious experience after all.

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