I have always hated the sound of nothing. I grind my teeth in silences and put music on as soon as I am by myself. I am scared about what might happen if I am left alone with myself. Inside my mind, what might be waiting for me? I think I’d rather avoid it than face the consequences.
It has now been accepted that silence is the pathway to the soul and to the truest form of yourself, and therefore your music making. In this busy world, many of us cannot even go to sleep at night without a reassuring murmur of sound in the background. As our lives get busier, there becomes less and less time for silence. To be silent becomes a weakness. As the louder of us get heard and the others of us are forgotten, it is easy to devalue silence and inner peace and focus on conquering the ‘confident’ and ‘outgoing’ sides of ourselves in order to be respected. We have associated silence with weakness and a voice as the strength. Is it that through silence we stay more and more connected with the love and passion surrounding us? Could it be that those who respect silence and practice it are in touch with an inner voice much more powerful than arrogant confidence? It is from these people that we can learn how to grow from the silence and play music in the most selfless way possible.
On the surface of the classical music industry is a huge hustle and bustle of judgment, criticism, comparison and self-improvement. From a young age, musicians are taught to strive to better themselves, fight against each other and focus on the virtuosity of the music and the impression of the audience. Very little time is given to space and awareness, true musical understanding and, most importantly, the study of silence. Music is created from the nuances of the deafening silence. The talented performer is he who listens to the end of the note, focuses on the effectiveness of pauses and connects with a similar peace of mind that the composer once felt. This focus is unattainable if we have a mind flooded with fear of failure, voices of criticism and a disconnect with ourselves.
Without realizing, I too entered into the music industry from the noisy end. Performances were a huge gamble and my thoughts were so loud that I was never content with the sound I created, mainly because I wasn’t really listening. How can we be expected to listen if criticism is 3X louder than the music? This was until I got RSI for 6 months and was forced to step away from the 4 hours of mindless, self centered practice I was doing. I was suddenly faced with silence. Nothing to cling to or listen to and this was deafening. I didn’t know how to react so at first I cried to hide the silence and entered into a state of hatred of myself. The silence scared me but what I found most terrifying was my inability to know when the sound, and my ability to play, would return. I was blessed with half an hour a day of practice, which I usually avoided and took to shopping and crying! As I began to realize that it would take more than a few months to reverse the pain, I made the most of the little time a day I had to practice. Suddenly I knew I had to listen.
Having the noise removed was the most terrifying, yet liberating thing that has ever happened to me. I began to write and read and enjoyed spending time walking and doing yoga. I began to understand the links between the nature and music, and through that, the beauty of silence.
I still find silence difficult at first. It is never easy to face the vast expanse of your mind but I think it is completely necessary if we want to perform as the truest versions of ourselves. Being exposed to the expanse of your mind is similar to being in front of a large audience in a concert hall. It takes a lot of time to get used to and is not always comfortable or pleasant. People who are comfortable with the silence are likely to understand the noise and pressures of our culture. People who are comfortable with the silence don’t have themselves getting in the way. Their music and lives are the most musical to our ears because they are able to play from the inner most part of their being. They respect the silence and from it, they weave the music that connects with us most strongly.
Practicing silence is, therefore, even more important than practicing your instrument or art form, yet is the thing we seem to leave the least amount of time for. Perhaps we need to start making it a top priority in our own musical development and begin to open up our inner most self. If performance anxiety is one of the most feared emotion of artists today, why is its powerful counteract, silence, not more valued in the path to inner calm and artistry?