04.26.21

“Music is not in the notes, but in the silence between”

The quote is most often attributed to Claude Debussy, however there are accounts stating that Mozart has said similar things. In a world of constant connection, screens, communication, social media, and Zoom meetings, it’s easy to never miss a note. We’ve pushed aside our grief for the cavalry charge to the white whale we refer to as “normal.” It’s understandable, we are social beings after all. We’re hard-wired to interpret breaks in the flow of human communication. We recognize the pregnant pause, the stunned silence, the hopeful hush. A one-beat delay on an answer can reveal hesitation or hurt; or play us for a laugh. I want to bring to your attention two examples of music and offer a thought or two.

Here is a link to John Cage’s 4’33’’  I don’t expect you to put this on and sit back and say, “You know what? Now I get it, this is great music” if you watch the performer, and it actually is brilliantly performed, this piece of music brings out more emotional content than anything else you’ll ever hear. Immediately from the start of the piece we’re presented with a situation in which we have to answer emotionally. Do we laugh? Is it a Victor Borge skit? Is this serious? Why am I wasting my time? It eventually becomes more of a showcase of our inability to cope. Much like we demand a musician to play for us, we demand distractions from our insecurities. (seriously, what did we even do before the smartphone?)

The second doesn’t come from a piece of music, but is a meme (online joke) I came across on social media. For those who don’t read music, there are notated rests that start increasing in number. The piece of music isn’t ‘speeding up’ but the number of rests are multiplying and becoming shorter, leaving you with a “Hurry up and wait” kind of energy. It can feel unsettling and get very complicated trying to count every miniscule rest. For this month’s musical practice, I ask that you allow silence for yourself. Let an awkward moment sit and don’t fill it with noise. My go to is bird song, it’s spring after all. Listen to the arrhythmic singing of the birds. Listen to your breath, your body pain, your tight muscles, and let silence relax them.

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