Keith Richards once described silence as the canvas upon which the colors of music become art.
“A painter starts with a blank canvas, and as a musician, your canvas is silence. You don’t want to cover it all up. So if you know what you’re doing as a musician, you play the silences. You can’t fall into that trap of trying to get everything in and playing so fast. You have to take time and pace yourself. Otherwise, technically you may make people go ‘wow’, but it doesn’t make good music.”
The family has been out-of-town all week and the sounds of laughter, tears, song, and screaming have been absent. It has caused me to reflect on the sound of silence. Many of us try to fill our lives with sound – a television on in the background, an iPod in our ears, a radio on our commute, even “white noise” to put us to sleep. Sound is a beautiful thing.
However, in our pursuit of sound, I wonder if we have lost the discipline of silence. Perhaps some of us are even fearful of the silence? The movement of air across membranes at different frequencies often connects us to memories or emotions. Music is powerful. I wonder though, if sometimes we are afraid of what the silence might show us? We would rather cover up our pain or insecurity with sound than sit in the silence.
Silence is what makes music beautiful. Silence is not only the absence of sound – it is the presence of reflection. Silence is what allows for dynamics and motion in music – as well as in life. Silence is what has caused me to appreciate the sounds of my life – the laughter and tears, the songs and the screaming – that I too often take for granted.
There is a powerful lesson about silence from the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 19:11. After an incredible journey from the summit of spiritual experience to the valley of despair and depression, Elijah found himself alone in a cave awaiting an answer from God. As he waited, he was visited by a crushing wind, a destructive earthquake, and a consuming fire. God was not in the extravagant displays, but instead followed those in a “gentle whisper.” The literal translation of the phrase is “the sound of silence.” The singular most defining moment in this man’s life was not in the extravagant, but was in the silence.
Silence not only give motion to music, but it opens a door for us to hear the things we may be hiding from. Silence is its own language which we must learn to speak just as fluently as the language of sound. We must listen intently for the sound of silence.