Why Is Silence So Loud In Music?

yoga

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?

Finding Home 

  

 If the home was just a memory that you touched once upon a dream
And even the stars’ brightness faded the closer to them you passed

Where could you lay the foundations of your heart?
If yet you received the greatest riches and witnessed the sweetest music

If you could part the waves and conjure the snowfall 

Where would the core of your heart cry back to?
If you reach the bottom of the ocean or fly beyond the highest mountains 

You must still make a home for your love and a life for your happiness 

But an armchair for the lost wanderer and a fire for his soul.

Hattie Butterworth

Does Art Have To Be Understood?

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I often wander cautiously around art galleries, often in the shadow of sincere tourists with their hands behind their back, face poised in a wonderfully intellectual and pensive expression. I feel inclined to understand the vast collections before me as they seemingly are, and marvel at the sense of x throughout the complexity of y. But now the time has come for me to admit it- I really don’t know very much at all about art.

From my experience and understanding, any emotion or expression of the heart and soul can exhibit itself in the form of art, be that a painting, sculpture, pop song or Shakespeare play. Art has been created from deep in the soul of an individual and is a highly personal expression of emotions. Artists are sensitive and aware, the most popular work they create can often be the pieces that took comparatively no conscious thought or time at all. Whilst we poor A Level students pour over a Dickinson poem or Shakespeare play, annotating it as best we can, the truth often remains; perhaps the artist has less of an idea than you.

Thought and Art are two very different concepts, and although intertwined and linked in some ways, they are worlds apart in others. Your talents are not created by a thought process necessarily. Talents are a gift of expression, a method of escape or way of life. It is also often the case that we cannot articulate our thoughts out loud. If someone asks you to explain your thoughts, I doubt many of us would be able to explain the exact workings of your mind. The fact remains, why are we so hard on ourselves (and our A Level students!). If art wasn’t created from a conscious thought, then why must we use conscious thought to explain it? By employing this form of explanation, it is in a sense a form of blasphemy towards the ‘meaning’ of art. Has anyone ever asked you what love is? Or what faith is? Or why you like the colour blue? These are phenomenons that are not explained. They are the great rhetoric of our world and existence. The artists use this absence of judgment to explore they very core of their being. Why then are we so set on judgment, criticism and intellect in this world of love, imagination and wonder?

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Allow yourself to spend time being with the art. Think about how the art affects you naturally and how you respond to it. Of course it is inevitable that we will have to explain art now and again in an attempt to please people or even to lure them in to our vibrant world, but don’t allow the academic side control your opinions and emotions- only you decide whether you like Schoenberg or not. If, on the other hand, you simply want to skip through a gallery and get to the shop, that’s also fine because the space in itself is to be experienced in as many different ways as possible and in experiencing rather that studying you are perhaps closer to the art than you imagine.

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Accept the little you will ever know about art and be humble. Allow faith or energy or love to come to you and accept it if it isn’t immediate. Remember too that no one decided what ‘good art’ was in the beginning. Good art is true love, true faith, an open heart and a thirst for life!

 

Waiting For Love- Poems for presents

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I didn’t mind

But Waiting for love

Was like waiting for a dream to come

To fly by and take me to a world afar

Where love was the waterfall and I was the reflection

I was shown the life from my dreams in the river

A life where the moon kissed the stars

And the colours and smells of dreams

Were like the palette of watercolours

I chose from the art shop

Open to all who buy into them

But fashioned only by the couriers of the soul and the holders of a curious heart.

This love I touched in the dreams of the artists

The love I longed to hold forever.

But this passionless love preferred by the inhabitants of our Earth

I could not fully comprehend

I am myself an ariitst forced to confront the elements of an acceptable love

I must then wait for a fashioned love

A love that words describe in song and not in thought

I am not suited to the earthly love type of the Earth’s wanderers

My love is of a different place

It has further to travel but I have my lifetime to seek

 

 

Always choose the better life- mental health and musicians

  Sometimes our thoughts can be far more destructive than the events surrounding us. Of course these two things are often interlinked, but not exclusively. If we have a specific worry plaguing our minds, no matter how laid back our life may seem, often the internal anguish can be far more warring and destructive. On the other hand, we may look back on a seemingly stressful week and feel calm, balanced and relaxed.

The way we choose to react to the events in our lives can determine the amount of stress they infer. This is far easier said than done. Often we are forced to enter a different mindset in order to get through the day, sacrificing the calm, balance and joy in our lives. We are forced to become self obsessed and one-track minded towards our goals and work and choose to sacrifice the relationships with our friends and the inner calm. Although this mindset may do the job, it forces us to crash out, emotionally drained and find ourselves running on sugar, caffeine and very little sleep. What if there were a way to get everything done and maintain a love and peace?

It all begins with simplifying our lives. This often requires erasing guilt, pressure, stress and other negative emotions that take over and over complicate our lives. This may include thinking completely rationally about what it is you, personally, are able to sustain as simply and joyfully as possible. If something is causing you immense stress and guilt, such as a subject or commitment, it may require you to either leave it for a while or lose it altogether in order for complex, eating emotions to diminish. It is at this balanced, freed state that our mind and body functions at its best and we begin to excel at what we love.

It is always necessary to take time to care for yourself. It is important to remember that it is not a weakness to respond to stressful situations negatively. Different people have differing stress thresholds and this shouldn’t cause comparison or guilt. It is a strength to know what you find difficult and learn to cope with it.

In order to discover how much you can cope with it is necessary to confront yourself by taking time for reflection, meditation or prayer. These states often leave you vulnerable and more responsive to factors that cause strain on your body.

Perhaps what I’m suggesting sounds time consuming and impossible at the moment. If this is the case, it is a tell tale fact that your life is very complicated. It may be that you only need 10 minutes when you wake up to be aware of the space around you and practice allowing emotions and sensations to come to you, but this time is invaluable to your mental health and sound is paramount you attempt to find space for it.

I value nothing more highly than time spent with yourself in any situation, shifting the strain to the side and breaking down your negative thoughts into breathing and trust in the world. It is at this point that your body will tell you just how much it is prepared to deal with.

I am searching to find this center of awareness in my practice but until I feel I’m able to sustain this, I know I need time with my thoughts, however scary or difficult it may be in order to cope with the pressure of being a musician and 17 year old.

One factor I find beautifully reassuring is my art form. Music is love and community, space and prayer. When we breakthrough the inevitable stress of auditions and pressured performance, we will discover the true beauty of what we love and associate it with the emotions that we thrive on, and not those that restrain us.

We have such a beautiful life to live, why not start now?

Love Hattie x

I’m worried that I now look boring when playing

Since addressing the impact my technique was having on my body, I discovered that much of the tension I was creating was from extreme movement of my body and head and neck. I discovered that although  I thought my movements were freeing my music, they were clearly impacting on my body in a negative way. Since this breakthrough, I’ve focused on the fundamentals of the Alexander Technique in my playing. A big part of this was releasing the tension in my neck and back to allow fluid movements in my arms. Since discovering that my sound is much more beautiful when I am stiller and the music much simpler, I’ve tried to incorporate this stillness and balance into my playing and musicality. I’ve certainly noticed a difference. The thing that scares me is how dull I look when playing in this way. I feel fantastic and far more connected with the music, though am not convinced that this is expressed to my audience. I know that prevention of injury is much more important that swaying to look pretty, but I felt comfortable moving. It’s what I’m comfortable with and what I was addicted to. Like anything, it will take take time for me to get used to my new technique and fully imprint a twinkle in my eye and smile whilst remaining stiller and yet far more sophisticated… Hopefully!

I’ve just discovered that I have never listened

Until very, very recently I understood the art of listening to be a passive, almost reflex action. Something we don’t have to think about, something that occurs naturally just like looking or feeling. I didn’t expect to have to keep a specific awareness of the sounds and messages around me- I expected them to come to me. I expected my hands to play the Haydn Cello concerto and my ears to judge each performance and tiny mistake. 

It may be obvious to many that this is in fact not an advisable method of becoming a professional musician. I realise that i never really listened with a whole awareness  to the sound I was making, just judged and criticised without careful thought and deliberation. 

The first time my teacher mentioned my absence of listening was many many months ago just before a concerto competition. I felt ready despite some injury setbacks and had just played the whole piece to her in an accompanist rehearsal. I thought it went well. I couldn’t remember much of the performance but I couldnt remember many slip-ups. But my teacher wasn’t quite so objective or reassuring. ‘You can play it’ she said, ‘but you didn’t listen to a single note that you played’ This hit me quite hard so I went on a quest to discover what it really is to listen and respond without judgment, especially in a performance situation. The Alexander Technique would say that if the primary control (awareness and release of head, neck and back) is in place, the ears are able to have a heightened awareness as the body feels balanced. I’ve certainly discovered that I require balance in my body to be able to play well and ultimately listen to what I’ve played. I almost view the ability to listen and feel balanced above the ability to play in tune. I certainly feel much better about myself if I’ve felt balanced and comfortable, even if I don’t play every note in tune.

I’m still searching for this ideal of being able to be both the performer and the audience member but will admit that I still feel in the dark. I know I’m not alone when I say that I find listening in concerts a challenge and listening specifically in my practice.

I have observed two things however- first is that I am completely engaged as a listener in a concert if I have either played the piece I’m listening to or listened to it many many times. I have also observed that as soon as I know someone may be listening to my practice I immediately turn my ears on and am aware of exactly what I want and what parts of my piece that I’ve been mindlessly playing through.

Perhaps these discoveries give a reassurance that it’s a similar awareness I have when people are listening to my performance to when people (potentially) listen to my practice. It is useful to have this judgmental awareness in practice, but not quite so useful in performance. Perhaps in performance I need to imagine myself much more as the listener. How would I want someone to hear this piece? How do I want to hear this piece? In a performance, it’s too late to listen judgementally. A performance is when you can share what you’ve practice with both your audience and yourself.

As for the being able to listen better if I’ve played the piece, perhaps this shows me how prepared I am to listen attentively. I know how the piece is going to sound and, most of the time, I know I have the capability of playing it well. It’s very easy to forget your knowledge of a piece and brilliant preparation when you’re forced into a stressful situation. I think it’s important to trust your hands and ears to listen and play to make the experienced relaxed and enjoyable, just as it is in practice.