Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Unorthodox wisdom - sounds of silence

Isn't it amazing how a phrase can become so completely associated with a piece of music? In church music there are simple things like "Holy, Holy, Holy," which immediately conjure the rousing march-like hymn tune or Biblical passages (often Isaiah) that for some people instantly spark motifs from Handel's Messiah. Simon and Garfunkel will forever "own" that phrase, won't they?

I've been thinking a lot about silence lately and how integral it is to the experience of music. When the choir sang "Verily, verily" a couple of weeks back by Tallis, I encouraged them to think about the driving eighth-note beat that lays underneath the piece as if it began long ago and continues well after the piece is done. Even in the rests between phrases, that tactus continues to carry on - music is heard sequentially in time so the silences can have meaning.

When a piece comes to an end, the silence can be a profound moment of contemplation, even a reaction to what was just heard. (I personally detest when an audience member insists on being the first to applaud, as if proving how much he or she loved the music. In my opinion, if you loved it so much, you'd be savoring the experience of the silence.)

I'll be musing on the "meaningful silences" of the church service and music in general in the coming couple of weeks. But I figured I should lead with the most famous lyric that starts from a simple memory of a dream and goes on to tell us much about the power and meaning of silence:

"Hello darkness, my old friend,
I've come to talk with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping,
Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence."

1 comment:

  1. I also find times of silence to be desirable, which is why I find the current desire of some musicians to fill every moment with sound during the services to be more than annoying. In some churches, the musicians even under-play the pastoral prayers. I hope you will keep honoring the silence.