… when silence is music


“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”
– Aldous Huxley

Silence is precious because it is rare.

And it’s rare because it’s fragile. The last time I heard complete silence was at this month’s Vox Humana concert at St. Andrew’s Cathedral featuring Arvo Pärt’s Passio. This methodical, meditative work for chorus, vocal quartet, and solo instruments uses quietude and music in equal doses to tell John’s account of the Passion story. Pärt has developed a signature writing style called tintinnabuli (Google that to learn more). He takes time to pause between each phrase, and often between each word, inviting listeners to contemplate, to enjoy, and to savour the sound, along with the spaces in between.

Beautifully balanced instruments and voices, fading away gently into silence. More voices. More silence. Repeat.

I hadn’t realized how much I was enjoying this until the stillness was broken for a few minutes by yelling and sirens outside the church. Noise like this is not uncommon downtown, but the shock of street noise was like stepping into a cold shower. Or a Sharpie marker defacing a painting. A rude interruption of an otherwise amazing performance!

I’m a fan of silence, but being quiet is tough. Quietness is hard to find and even harder to maintain. What do we do when we finally get it? We’re left with our own thoughts and prayers, and sometimes that’s unsettling. Just like some of the world’s best music.

When is the last time you heard silence?

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