Japanese Tea Ceremonies
The Japanese Tea Ceremony is a ceremonial way of preparing, presenting, and drinking a type of green tea called matcha. The process of making the tea and its presentation is considered an art and to be a skilled practitioner of the tea ceremony takes considerable training and practice. The tea ceremony has four underlying principles: harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility. It encourages slowing down, living in the present moment, and gaining a broader perspective on life.
So, what does the Japanese Tea Ceremony have to do with vinyl records? Bear with me, we’ll get there.
Spotify and the Speeding Up of Life
I’m a huge fan of Spotify, through which I listened to nearly 30,000 minutes in 2021. I listen to Spotify in my car, via earbuds while traveling, while writing, and all over my house through Sonos speakers. I love that most music you’d want to listen to is on the service (except if you’re a Neil Young fan). But as great as Spotify is, it isn’t all positive. It shifts your focus to individual songs rather than albums. It’s easy to add an individual song to a playlist without hearing anything else by the artist (for example, I have the excellent 1993 song “Laid” by James on a few playlists but I’ve never listened to anything else by the band). In short, Spotify and other digital streaming services make music easy but also remove the commitment of time and money that listening to music used to require. Like on-demand video, internet shopping, and the ability to download a book to my Kindle in an instant, Spotify has contributed to the feeling of my life speeding up.
Listening to Vinyl and My Version of a Tea Ceremony
My two brothers bought me a turntable for Christmas this year (along with Houses of the Holy by Led Zeppelin on vinyl). I’ve connected it to my vintage stereo system that I spent way too much money on in my 20s (a Rotel RB-850 amp, NAD 1600 pre-amp, and Mission 775 tower speakers for you audiophiles out there) and have started building a vinyl record collection.
Listening to a vinyl record is a bit like a Japanese tea ceremony for me these days:
- First, there’s the flipping through my catalog of 21 albums. Considering each one carefully for what fits my mood. Compared to Spotify with its nearly unlimited options, selecting from a limited number of albums is strangely satisfying and enjoyable. Research shows that having too many options is paralyzing.
- I select a record, spend some time looking at the cover and gatefold interior if the album has one. Digital streaming has removed the appreciation of cover artwork from our listening experience. Appreciation of the cover artwork adds to my to my ceremony.
- The feel of removing the record from the cover and sleeve is an experience that connects me to to my childhood and teenaged years when vinyl albums were my main mode of listening. Time warps and the 15 year old me and 51 year old me are connected. Those 36 years seem compress into an instant.
- I place the album on the turntable and place the needle on the record. The sound of the needle on the blank spot of the album before the music starts provides a sense of anticipation.
- I sit. The music flows. I set aside worries, deadlines, pressures, demands, and experience the music for a bit in the present moment.
- Maybe I just focus on listening to the music and do nothing else. Or maybe I write. Or read. But I listen to the whole album. The popular songs as well as the deep tracks. The artist arranged the songs on the album in a way that made sense to them –a flow. I follow their path and connect more deeply with their art than if I just listened to one song on the album and then switched to another song by another band.
- The sound isn’t digital. There’s a depth too it — it’s the sound of a diamond-tipped stylus vibrating in grooves. There are imperfections and you hear a crackle and sometimes a pop. Each play of the record changes it a bit — it causes wear and tear to both the album and needle. After enough plays both the needle and the album will need replacing. It’s like needle and vinyl are offering up a bit of themselves for the music I’m experiencing. I think about how that’s similar to the passing of our days — each day creates a bit of wear and tear on us. We’re not like digital music that is a bunch of zeros and ones that never wear out. So, there is an authenticity to vinyl that is reflective of life.
- And then the album is done. I remove the sylus from the album, re-sheath the record, and give a moment of thanks for the artist who created the music I just listened to. I close my practice of listening with some mindful breaths and a bow. And them move on.
Thanks Brian and Drew for a great gift. Rediscovering vinyl albums has added a positive dimension to my life and has slowed things down for me just a bit.
John – I’m so glad you are enjoying the turntable. I have great memories of my younger years and learning to appreciate great music and good sound quality from my big brother. So I’m happy you are reliving those days
In full disclosure, the gift was Drew’s idea, so I’ll give him most the credit.
Ah yes, the very best part of this is the process is falling in love with the lesser known piece on the album. The original gem you bought the album for falls down the list of favorites as you acquire new favorites.
I have also just purchased a record player. It’s bemusing people, but I am loving the process which you describe so eloquently. There’s also the thrill and fear of going into a record shop and buying music again, sometimes without having heard it before, which you don’t get on music streaming services.
So true! I have been loving going to my local record store which is called vintage vinyl and browsing through all the stacks of records. I have bought a few album that I would’ve thought of buying other than just the happenstance of coming across them. Delicious.
“Time warps and the 15 year old me and 51 year old me are connected. Those 36 years seem compress into an instant.” Great observation. I feel the same way when I eat food from my childhood. It’s like the food critic in Ratatouille.
And for the more literary inclined, it reminds me of a popular line from William Blake:
“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour”
“Sit Down” is the other James song that I used to put on mix tapes (oh, mix tapes. Similar to playlists, but also very, very different!)
I absolutely love this article! You are spot on in every aspect of every comment you make when it comes to how it makes me feel listening to vinyl again. Thanks for sharing. I passed this on to my daughter who is a big fan of vinyl as well hopefully she’ll be able to press the reset button on the speed of life while she’s in her 20s and enjoy the rest of it.