The Listening Service

The Listening Service

United Kingdom

Rethink music with The Listening Service. Tom Service presents a journey of imagination and insight, exploring how music works


The Proms Podcast Episode II - A New Episode  

While The Listening Service takes a break, why not try this episode of The Proms Podcast?

Extreme Voices  

Whether it's an eye-wateringly high soprano or profoundly low bass, lightning quick rappers, the star castrati of the 18th century, the screamers, the growlers, the robots or the singers that can produce two notes at once - there are a lot of extreme voices out there. Tom Service takes a trip through the many purveyors of vocal pyrotechnics from Mozart and Rachmaninov to Stockhausen, Tom Waits and Daft Punk, has a lesson in throat singing from overtone singer Michael Ormiston, and finds out whether we're all extreme singers at heart.


Tom Service discovers endless variety in music based on a drone - from rustic dance music to mystic religious ecstasy. Medieval Christian music used a drone to provide support for their liturgical chants; old country dances went with a swing to the drone of bagpipes and hurdy gurdy. Much Indian classical music builds elaborate melodic variations over a drone. Minimalist composer Lamonte Young has a never-ending drone piece playing in his loft in New York; and rock band The Velvet Underground brought psychedelic drones into the pop scene of the late 1960s. Tom talks to Northumbrian piper Kathryn Tickell about the drones on her bagpipes, and to American Minimalist composer Phill Niblock about his use of microtonal drones in his music.

I Got Rhythm  

Ever gone out dancing? Or found your fingers and toes tapping along to your favourite tune? We find rhythm irresistible as humans. But what is rhythm? How do we feel that beat - and do we need it to enjoy music? Tom Service explores rhythm in music from Bach's courtly dances to Steve Reich's clapping hands, finds out what puts the rhythm in RnB and discovers music that has no rhythm at all. Meanwhile musical neuroscientist Dr Jessica Grahn is on hand to show us how rhythm affects our brains and together they find out the beat really does go on throughout our human lives.

The Power of Three  

From medieval English music to the Everly Brothers - what is it about the musical interval of the third that sounds so attractive? Why does a major third tend to feel positive, and a minor third tend to feel sad? Nature or nurture? And what about their dark cousin, the tritone - the so-called "Devil in Music" - what on earth is that sinister about a couple of notes? Tom Service is joined by Dr Adam Ockelford to try and find some answers.

Hay Festival 2017  

In a special edition of The Listening Service recorded live at this year's Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts, Tom is joined by the composer Richard Sisson (at the piano), and poet Gillian Clarke to discuss the art of setting words to music. From the thwarted romance of Lieder to the game-changing musicals of Stephen Sondheim and the era-defining pop songs of Jarvis Cocker, finding the perfect synergy between written word and musical note is an elusive art. Tom and his guests explore just how it's done and by the end of the show they'll have created their own setting live in front of the eyes and ears of the Hay audience. Part of Radio 3's week-long residency at Hay Festival, with Lunchtime Concert, In Tune, Free Thinking, The Verb and The Listening Service all broadcasting from the festival.

What's the Point of the Conductor?  

The Listening Service had a question from a listener : "When I see the musicians playing, they seem to be looking at their sheet music, not the conductor. Can an orchestra not function perfectly well without a conductor? If I'm intensely moved by a piece of orchestral music, is it not the musicians which moved me? Why must I applaud some arbitrary conductor, who never touched a single instrument throughout the entire performance?" Tom Service rises to the challenge and looks at the role of the conductor - is it all about their ego, their clothes, their ability to beat time or their emotional outpouring onstage - or it is something else entirely? Rethink music with The Listening Service.


Tom Service looks at how pieces of music end, and asks what endings mean. Are they mere framing devices, or can they suggest weightier thoughts of triumph, or conversely, of death? And what of the fading away so prevalent in pop music? From Beethoven's insistent affirmations to Tchaikovsky's bleak despair, from Haydn's witty farewells to Human League's intimations of eternity, the ways that music ends are as various as music itself.

Breaking Free: Martin Luther's Revolution  

As part of Radio 3's Breaking Free: Martin Luther's Revolution, The Listening Service asks where the idea of communal singing, especially in religious contexts, came from in modern Europe. It seems natural to us today but the practice of congregational singing was once a radical, revolutionary idea that brought religion and politics together. And - what do the football chants heard on the terraces share with the hymns we sing in church? Tom talks to Bach scholar John Butt and the Reverend Lucy Winkett to find some answers. Rethink music with The Listening Service.

Brahms - Behind the Beard  

The most famous beard in classical music? Perhaps. And if so, what does Johannes Brahms's abundant facial hair have to do with his music? Tom Service looks at four contrasting compositions for clues: the First Piano Concerto, the Second Sextet, the choral piece 'Gesang der Parzen' (Song of the Fates) and the A-major Intermezzo.

Who Wrote the First Folk Song?  

Who wrote the first folk song? It's an age old question, these tunes that everyone knows which have been passed down from generation to generation... Where do they come from? Enlisting the help of ethnomusicologist and folk singer Dr Fay Hield and folklore expert Steve Roud, Tom Service embarks on a quest to the very origins of music. It's a journey that takes him back in time from modern-day folk clubs to the origins of the species (via rural Lincolnshire in the early 20th century).


Tom Service ponders brevity in music - how short you can go? From Beethoven bagatelles to Webern's chamber miniatures, short doesn't need to mean lightweight. Short pieces may be intricate as a netsuke or as simple as a sonic doodle. Or suggest a fragment of something larger. Tom talks to sonic artist JLIAT, who has made a piece lasting 1/44100 of a second. But he's thinking of shorter pieces.

Music - It's About Time  

A programme recorded earlier this afternoon at the Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead, in which Tom goes on a journey into musical time and space. Find out what connects Wagner and Stockhausen, speed metal and slow movements - and how you can transform the fastest music in the world into the slowest, right in front of your ears...

Beethoven's Ninth Symphony  

Tom Service explores arguably the most famous piece of music in the world: the Ode to Joy from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. It's a piece which has been appropriated by everyone from the European Union, to the writer Anthony Burgess, who used it as an unsettling counterpoint to the murderous exploits of the characters in his novel A Clockwork Orange. Tom asks whether Beethoven's original vision of a musical utopia has actually turned out to be far more dangerous than the composer could ever have imagined.

In Space no-one can hear you sing...  

Space. A place few men or women have gone before ... but plenty of composers have. The universe has inspired musicians for hundreds of years and consequently we all know what space music sounds like. Or do we? From Holst and David Bowie to John Williams via Ligeti, Thomas Ades and the Beastie Boys, Tom Service dons his spacesuit on a mission to explore why cosmic-inspired music sounds the way it does, and discovers how space science is just as inspired by music as musicians are by space. En route to the stars, space scientist Lucie Green is on hand to tell Tom the reality of sound in space, while mathematician Elaine Chew helps him uncover the music of the spheres.

What you see is what you hear?  

Tom Service asks whether the way we see composers depicted in art influences the way we hear their music. With particular reference to three pictures that you can see on the Listening Service page of the Radio 3 website for this programme - Hildegard of Bingen, Bach and Beethoven. Rethink music with The Listening Service.

What Makes a Song?  

Tom Service considers what makes a good song work - verse, chorus, a good tune and...? Is a pop song using fundamentally the same structure as an art song or Lied? From the timeless pop of The Carpenters to the gigantic "song-symphonies" of Gustav Mahler, Tom examines what you can do with a few verses, perhaps a chorus, and maybe a "middle eight". He's also joined by composer and pianist Richard Sisson to consider the genius of Robert Schumann's songcraft, and by producer Dan Carey who considers contrasting song structures by The Beach Boys and Frank Ocean.


Virtuosity: what does it mean to be good? Really, really good? If you're a virtuoso pianist, violinist, cellist, does that mean you can play faster than everybody else - or better? From Liszt to Paganini, Horowitz to Lang Lang, what does it mean to be a virtuoso? Are you in league with the devil, as 19th-century critics said about the violinist Paganini, or are you able to communicate more movingly, more emotionally, more humanly than other players? With Tom Service.

Whatever Happened to the Waltz?  

A hotbed of vice, immorality, and social meltdown... or a musical embodiment of gilded nostalgia and conservatism... The sounds of an empire at whirling play in Vienna... or the final soundtrack to the end of a musical and political world order... Tom Service invites you to dance through history in three-time, and whirl through waltzes both wonderful and weird. With dance historian Darren Royston and dancing queen Katie Derham.

Breaking Free: Tom Service on the Second Viennese School  

Breaking Free - the minds that changed music. Tom Service explores how to listen to the Second Viennese School - music that exploded with expressive feeling in the early years of the 20th century, and then gradually rebuilt harmony into a new system, using the 12-note series. He explains how the music developed from Arnold Schoenberg's early expressionist ventures into atonality, to the cool jewel-like precision of his pupil Anton Webern. In conversation with art historian Lisa Florman, he finds parallels in the painter Wassily Kandinsky's journey towards abstraction and his theories of shapes and colours. (Kandinsky was a friend of Schoenberg). And composer George Benjamin describes the intricate structures of Webern's music, which greatly inspired his own compositions.

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