Pauses. Breaths. Internal waits. Inaudible sighs. Delays in thinking.
Silence in our lives is becoming increasingly impossible to find. I type that sentence at a cool cafe in Lynchburg, Virginia called the White Hart. Wonderful espresso and looks like great breakfasts as well (I'm intermittent fasting, so...) There's the ubiquitous hipster music playing - not too loud, thankfully - as I sit in a window seat feeling and hearing the traffic bounce by on Mainstreet USA. The frothing milk whining in high pitches while being steamed, the electric pulse of the espresso grinder, the high energy of a cute little SuzieQ excited to see her dad, the many sounds of glasses, forks, plates, and light discussion in that very congenial Virginian drawl...
All in all, most people would find it all pretty calming and not, in anyway, loud.
But there's no silence here.
Where do you find silence -- not just aural silence, but silence in the mind?
If there's a smartphone in your hand, or a keyboard underneath your fingers, then sorry - no mental silence happening, even if you're in bed late at night and there's silence around you.
To really understand silence, it has to be around you and in you. Bathing in silence is a rarity for any of us. Even for seasoned meditators, the internal silence of the mind comes infrequently.
And so, when one turns to music, to the billions of rests placed into scores or the millions of fermati sitting over silences, we see how much silence should be in the score. When one thinks about the silences inherent immediately preceding any downbeat or following any final climatic moment, one starts to see how profound silence is to the structure of music. Yet hardly any thought - or more importantly training in creating silence - happens during our every day music making (during rehearsals especially.)
Silence helps to define a composer's textual intentions, their architextual structures per se. Actors use silences - between sentences, between character interactions, between words and syllables sometimes.
Musicians tend to observe rests. And then move on to the important part, the music.
But ignoring silence in music destroys one of the more powerful tools at our disposal. Silence creates contrast, immediately so. It sets apart that which is in focus with the ears listening. I wish more singers would use silence in their auditions. Giving a few seconds before beginning a piece. Allowing all of those thousands of rests and fermatis in their recitatives to really sit in space. Make those attending look up and wonder, "are they going to continue?"
Silence is a superpower, and people should wield it more often.
In life, listening is all about silence. Silence before speaking focuses a room. Silence within sentences forces the listeners to continue to listen. I think it also allows the collective minds in the room to take in what is being said, instead of only surface-listening to the tone and big words/ideas being presented. Details are getting lost, people are hardly listening, and then jumping to conclusions about people and people's ideas.
And then there's another kind of silence -- silencing others.
I might call it political silencing -- Taking the power of silence and slapping it onto people we've decided not to listen to, or allow them to continue to think their thoughts because we don't agree. This silencing of others also silences ourselves, as it denies anyone involved the ability to think critically, examine through inquiry, or have a dialogue that runs two ways. It is the new political weapon of both the left and the right; a powerful weapon because silence is so massively powerful.
Musicians understand silence, so we should understand its power. Perhaps if more of us took silence into our everyday lives - turning off our phones, pulling out our earphones, stopping our comments on every and all subjects, driving with the windows down and the radios off, sitting in cafes listening to conversations, or asking our friends how they are and then actually listening to the answers. Perhaps that sort of training might allow us to really begin to interpret our musical silences in a different manner. Use them tactically, empower them to focus the audience upon something that has just happened, or something that is about to happen.
Really let the silence fall upon a room and feel its power to unite people.