Monday, April 20, 2020

The sound of silence – rediscovering the art of listening

With far fewer people around at the moment, I am starting to hear things that I don’t normally notice.

It made me realise that in our usually busy daily lives, many of us have lost the art of listening. It’s time to reconnect with the world.

our noisy world

As I write this in my sunny garden, my thoughts are being mangled by our next door neighbour sanding down a door with his electric sander. Yesterday, we decided to breakfast outdoors as the other neighbour chose to mow their lawn.

Both these incidents were annoying, but when they stopped, we realised how quiet our world has become since most of us began to stay at home.

Normally we can hear traffic on the busy A12 in the distance, the screams of kids in the nearby school playground, builders working on a house a few doors down, garden parties and barbecues as the evenings stay light for longer.

But now all that has stopped and we can hear birds (were there always as many birds singing?), the creak of our wooden pergola, the window, the wind blowing through the trees, somebody practicing the flute further down the street.

And sometimes, when it’s particularly quiet, we can hear the sound of silence. It’s a rather painful feeling when your ears are searching for sound, but none is to be found.

music is what happens between the silences

Now that world has become quieter, we begin to notice the little things and become aware of the tiny sounds that constantly surround us.

“There is no such thing as an empty space or an empty time. There is always something to see, something to hear. In fact, try as we may to make a silence, we cannot.”
John Cage from ‘Silence: Lectures and Writings’

The German band Kraftwerk used to make sure they had one day a week when they listened to no music. It acted as a palate cleanser for when they went back into the studio.

By contemplating silence, we become more attuned to listening. Our sensitivity increases and when we come back to music it will be richer than before.

This is why it’s important in performance to start from silence. What happens next will never have been heard before.

listening is the key to great music-making

I’ve written before that Singing is all about listening.

But to listen is to be vulnerable. To be open and impressionable, to hear everything, is dangerous.

“But if you are shut tight against the world you cannot receive nourishment. The problem is how to be open enough and safe enough at the same time. The resolution is a matter of balance, of discriminating between receptivity and self-defence.”
W.A. Mathieu

You might like to read The Listening Book – discovering your own music, a series of essays by W.A. Mathieu.

Be playful, be attentive, and make the most of this unique opportunity to really listen to the world around you. Enjoy!

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Chris Rowbury




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