The most deafening silence

A few months ago, I found the following coming out of my mouth during a discussion about a person I’ve known for some time: “She has the most deafening silence I’ve ever known.” I wrote it down, partially because I’m a big word geek, but also because it so thoroughly defined a particular relationship in a way I hadn’t found before. That single sentence resonated so loudly that I’ve been pondering it ever since.

At the time, I was referring to that individual’s willingness to outwait an opponent until they get what they want. The success rate of this technique is astonishing, but problematic. They may get what they want, but they lose a lot in each exchange: respect, tolerance, and friendship, just to start.

But as a musician, this concept is intriguing for other reasons. We talk about this in singing quite a bit: there are decisions on how long to wait between phrases, how to time a reaction to another performer’s line, how to shift from one scene or song to another, etc. The moments of silence, as you probably know, is palpable, and one of our most effective tools as we build tension, expectation and an overall experience for the audience. So in the interest of exploring this a bit, here are a few of my favorite silence-themed quotes (and there are a LOT of them out there).

A perennial favorite:

The music is not in the notes, but in the silence in between.

W.A. Mozart

I love cross-discipline analogies like this:

A painter paints pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence.

Leopold Stokowski

A little rethinking might be in order:

Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything.

John Grossman

Musical thinking from a less-expected source:

After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.

Aldous Huxley

This might explain a few things about this guy’s educational focus…

We should read music in the same way that an educated adult will read a book: in silence, but imagining the sound.

Zoltan Kodaly

And finally, an apt phrase from one of our modern pop masters:

Notes don’t make music until you learn to insert silence between them

Ben Folds

There are DOZENS more quotes like this online. The internet’s quote machines can get cloying after awhile, but this was a fun dive. Take a look and see if the exploration sparks a little nothing in you.

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