Wednesday, July 7, 2010


I have often been fascinated (and I must admit a bit irritated) over the years at how uncomfortable we are as a society with silence.  As a musician I have been asked to fill that silence many times.  "Could you play something?"  Sadly, most don't care what is played as long as it fills the "awkward" silence.  But why is it awkward?  I have a touch of an attention problem. (ahem)  I mean, I have a hard time reading if there are other things going on.  If there is music playing (with lyrics) I have to concentrate extra hard in order to not have to re-read the same paragraph over several times.  Sometimes I resort to reading out loud---which has brought many a curious glance my way, I'm sure.  Funny, people hear me reading, but the loud music or other conversation around them doesn't phase them.  I remember one time many years ago (BC---before children) I was playing for a church service.  The pastor was baptizing some new Christians that day.  I was excited to watch and rejoice with these new believers.  When the baptism was over, the service continued with hymns, songs, and the message.  Later that week the Minister of Music contacted me to tell me that he had gotten a pretty big tongue lashing from the pastor because there was "no music playing during the baptism part of the service".  Really?  I didn't miss it at all! (haha)  Does silence put people on edge?  The minute the background music starts I think people breathe a sigh of relief and also relax.  

I agree that music can play a wonderful part in helping us to relax.  I also think music is worshipful.  But sometimes we need silence to really hear, don't we?  I know I do.  I rarely get it.  I think part of my own personal problem is that I am so in tune to the music (no pun intended) that the rhythm and melody invade my mind and I have a hard time focusing on anything else.  I would love to hear people's thoughts on silence.  I know that we wouldn't want to have too much of it, but I think we could hear God a lot more clearly sometimes if we allowed ourselves to sit in silence.....even in church.
I have a friend out of state who plays for a church that has no silence.  One song leads directly into another.  When the minister prays, the instrumentalists keep right on playing "quietly in the background" and never "miss a beat" so to speak.  Their music rises and falls with whatever aspect of the service is happening at the time.  After the prayer, they move right into the introduction to another song.  The music comes to a "rest" during the sermon, but picks up strategically at the time of the invitation.  Some of this is fine, but I'm talking about an extreme case here.  So what is the deal?  Are we afraid of being alone in our thoughts?  I am baffled by this.  Does silence make people lose focus?  It has the opposite effect on me.
I would love some feedback on this one.  

Why the need for noise or sound?  What's up with no silence?



Anonymous said...

I think you are on the right track. I don't think people really want to think. We like our minds to be occupied. I have trouble thinking if music that has words is playing and I know them. I had to learn to pray WITH the music during communion. Monastics viewed silence as a spiritual discipline. It is an interesting question.

Steve said...

I really big issue with me, and with education, and with spirituality as it is defined today, and with so much else. We need to talk and develop "silence" club!