The Music of Silence

As much as I love music, I also appreciate silence. Or perhaps I should say I appreciate the absence of what we traditionally define as “music.” It offers a chance to focus on a different, more nuanced layer of sound.

Birds singing, leaves rustling, chipmunks fussing in the yard, rain gently tapping on the house … subtle yet, somehow, profound. Add a layer of neighbors and their children and pets cavorting nearby, even the brief Doppler-ized snippets of music from other people’s passing car radios, and these random sounds combine to create the effect of daily life on “shuffle.” I love it!

John Cage, the 20th century avant garde composer, famously “composed” a piece called 4’33” or Four Minutes and Thirty Three Seconds. He specified it for any instrument or combination of instruments, and the score instructs the performers to NOT to play for 4 minutes and 33 seconds. The music is in the sounds of the environment … people shuffling, coughing, sounds from outside the performance venue. Cage was prescient — he introduced the piece in 1952, long before we had as many sensory and media inputs as we do today. The concept has gained relevance and resonance as our world has become noisier.

There is something comforting and affirming to me in the sounds of nature and the hustle and bustle of life. It feels like home. Those sounds of the world around me also give me another level of appreciation for the music when I turn on the radio again or pop in another CD.  What about you? Do you find that silence — or the absence of “music” — enhances your appreciation of the music and the world around you? How you do find a balance that works for you?