Tuesday, December 19, 2006

All Kinds!

I’ve always been uncomfortable with the idea of “small talk”. There’s always a high degree of superficiality that goes hand in hand with it, and often times there’s a lack of genuineness on both sides as each of you try to find common ground to initiate a deeper conversation. A necessary evil, but an awkward one nonetheless.

However, despite the necessity of the conversation, there is a particular question that comes up time and time again that has started to frustrate me. Almost very time it comes out that I have deep interest in music, I get the question, “So what kind of music do you listen to?”

I’d bet many of us have heard that exact question before. And I’d bet most of us reply the same way: “all kinds” (or “everything”), especially those of us who appreciate music to any degree higher than relegating it simply to existing in the background, as a soundtrack to our daily lives.

Unless you are an infant when it comes to music, your collection probably contains at least a base amount of albums representing a wide array of genres, from classical to jazz, rock, dance, hip-hop, and others. We all like different kinds of music. Music is mood-based, and different genres have different places in each of our lives - of course we own all types of music! Wouldn’t we, therefore, answer the question “all kinds?”

Imagine the same conversation and asking the question “what kinds of movies do you like?” Sounds like a dumb question, right? Don’t you agree that most people would answer, truthfully, “all kinds – dramas, comedies, action, you name it”? It’s a dumb question, because, well, it reveals nothing unique about the person you’re talking to, which is the primary purpose for putting up with small talk in the first place!

But here we are asking a virtually equivalent question, substituting the word “music” for “movies”. Who wouldn’t answer “all kinds”?

I understand the situation – you’re knee deep in small talk and trying to find something the other person is interested in, and so you try to initiate a conversation about music, because, hey, we’re all interested in music, aren’t we? Rather than asking the standard question, let me help you out with a few alternate suggestions:

  • What music are you listening to at the moment? What 5 CDs are on heaviest rotation?

  • What are some of your favorite artists, pieces, or albums?

  • If talking with a musician] What artists influence you the most?

  • There are many other questions similar to these, which initiate a conversation about music but also reveal unique characteristics about someone’s tastes. Please, however, refrain from asking the generic “so what kinds of music do you listen to?”. You may not know me at all, but, you always know the answer.

    All kinds.


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