The Listening Service-logo

The Listening Service


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

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


United Kingdom




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




Codes, ciphers, enigmas

Elgar's 'Enigma Variations' and the codes, ciphers and hidden messages in music.


Concertos: All for one and one for all?

Tom Service explores the concerto


Olivier Messiaen and the Interstellar Call!

In a live edition of The Listening Service, Tom Service hears and responds to composer Olivier Messiaen’s ‘Interstellar Call’, sent out in his epic "From the canyons to the stars..." The music is inspired by the wild beauty of Arizona, filled with birdsong and the sounds of nature, but also with a cosmic sense of awe - where does Messiaen's visionary work fit in the culture of the early 70s and in the present day?


In space no-one can hear you sing

An odyssey through the musical universe, presented by Tom Service


Is complicated music better than simple music?

Tom Service looks at complexity in music. From Bach fugues to contemporary pop production, musicians and composers love to elaborate ideas to the limits of their imaginations. But when we listen, we only have one chance to hear all that's going on in their music. According to physicist Marvin Minsky, the human brain can only register a maximum of three different musical ideas going on at the same time. So how do we manage to enjoy listening to the rich counterpoint of a Mozart symphony, a...


Why do babies love music?

Why do we seem to love music from the day we're born? Are we born musical or do we learn it along the way? Whether it's melodies by Mozart, Queen, nursery rhymes or Baby Shark, music seems to captivate our babies - but what is it about these tunes that they're enjoying? Tom is joined by infant psychology expert Dr Laurel Trainor to find out how babies really interact with music - what are they hearing in the womb? Do they have musical preferences? Does participating in music have any...


Better than background music?

From ancient Greek drama until today, music has often been an integral part of the theatre and it's where many concert hall staples - think Beethoven's Egmont... Schubert's Rosamunde... Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream.... Grieg's Peer Gynt - began life. But does the very act of collaboration make incidental music a sort of anaemic, second rate cousin to symphonies, string quartets and sonatas? To help find answers, Tom Service enlists the help of theatre director Elle While and...


Countertenors - classical rock gods!

From Frankie Valli and Jimmy Somerville to Andreas Scholl and Iestyn Davies - Tom Service celebrates the male singers hitting the high notes. Why do they do it? How do they do it? And why is it so uniquely thrilling a sound? And it's not about singing like a woman! With inside knowledge from countertenor Lawrence Zazzo.


What's the point of practice?

Does practice make perfect? And what is perfect practice? Tom Service asks whether anyone can become a good musician by just putting in the hours. Pianist James Rhodes talks about the role practice plays in his life, and Professor Brooke Macnamara reveals the true role practice plays in performance.


Sound of the Underground

What does the underground sound like? Beneath the earth lies a noisy vibrant place, from the explosive roar of a volcano erupting, the echoes of caverns down to the barely audible grinding of the earth's plates. All this noise has long inspired composers and musicians - from Stravinsky and Wagner to Howard Shore and Tom Waits, we burrow into the earth itself to uncover the musical treats that lie under our feet. How do you translate the underground into music and does it bear any resemblance...


What is Sound Art? And why?

Tom Service considers the rise of Sound Art, commonly found in art galleries today, and wonders whether it is a new genre or simply music in an art space? He consults musician and sound artist Mark Fell, finds precedents in Wagner's operas, considers how a 16th-century choral work became a contemporary art installation, and celebrates the American performance artist Laurie Anderson who accidentally had a pop hit with her piece O Superman.


Ranked Amateurs

Today, 'amateur' has become a byword for sloppiness and low standards. But for centuries amateurs were the bedrock of musical life and an essential and vitalising force for composers, providing not only a cohort of highly-accomplished performers and the most discerning audience but also a lucrative vein to be mined by music publishers. To find out how and why attitudes changed - and if they are still changing - Tom Service is joined by writer and historian Katy Hamilton. David Papp (producer)


Why are classical audiences so quiet?

Tom looks at how modern audiences are hooked on silence in the concert hall. Citing a recent incident where the rustling of a sweet wrapper by an audience member in Malmo created a ruckus so powerful that it spilled spectacularly into a violent brawl, Tom will examine why silence is considered so important and noise so abhorrent in classical concerts.


The Power of One

Music where the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many - but also where the many can become one... Tom Service looks at music performed solo, or in unison. What is happening in music where there is no harmony? And how can a single musical line build a sense of community?


Anger in Music

LET'S GET ANGRY! Music’s power to express and exorcise anger has taken composers, performers, and listeners, to the Dark Side of music’s profoundly emotional powers. How do you make the sounds of anger? We’ll scream like heavy metal virtuosos and operatic divas, we’ll explore the harmonies of anger through the sounds of the angriest classical music over the centuries, and we’ll hear what happens in our brains when we just have to express our vexatious impulses. But while there’s a cathartic...


Bruckner and the Symphonic Boa Constrictors

Even today, some music-lovers will nod knowingly when they hear Brahms's comparison of Anton Bruckner's epic symphonies with a nightmare-scary giant snake which kills its victims in the inescapable embrace of its crushing coils. Poor Bruckner, ever the easy target of sneering critics. At once childishly obsessive and intensely spiritual, ultra-sophisticated musician and naive country bumpkin: even by composers' standards he stood out as weird. No wonder the music was so hopeless! But Tom...


The Double Bass

It's huge; Its awkward; It's difficult to play; and while it’s totally pivotal to the musical spectrum, it's rarely talked about. It's the epitome of the elephant in the room and yet, we'll discover why it is possibly the most underrated instrument in the orchestra. Tom Service on the history and development of the largest and lowest pitched orchestral string instrument, and hears how it's played today. He's joined by performers Leon Bosch and Daphna Sadeh to discuss why the bass is much,...


Can music be gendered?

Can you hear 'masculine' and 'feminine' in music? And how have these concepts had an impact on music and how people have heard it over the centuries? With Tom Service.


Style Counsel

Tom Service dispenses Style Counsel - what are the different eras in music history, and how can you tell them from each other? How did they come about and grow and change? And as Radio 3 is about to launch its New Year New Music season, is there an overarching distinguishing style in music today? Tom is joined by composer and writer Neil Brand at the piano for some answers.


The Key to Keys

What is a key? In western music, if all the intervals and possible chords in every scale in any major key are the same (and ditto for every scale and chord in every minor key), why do we need 12 major keys and 12 minor ones? What have keys meant to composers down the centuries and has that changed? Are keys now so last century (or even before that)? What even is a key? Why is the Pythagorean Comma important and what even is it? So many questions... To attempt some answers, Tom Service...