The Most Beautiful Silence
Shuffling. Papers rustling. A whisper. A stifled cough. The conductor raises his hands delicately, as if pulling two marionettes up by their strings. Silence. The song begins. The voices of the choir start at once, and a chord breaks through the silence like a stone tossed in a pond. It ripples through the audience like water flowing over them, retreating from each other, then reuniting, creating a kaleidoscope of sound. The choir’s single voice pauses, then comes the most beautiful silence you have ever heard.
I am at my high school choir adjudication trip to Baltimore, Maryland. While I am not on stage at this moment, I am member of the choir. As I sit in the audience, it is my pleasure to watch the most prestigious choir, the Madrigals, perform their piece, entitled John the Revelator. This piece contains suspensions which cause the hair on my arms to stand at attention. In this moment, I have an epiphany; it is not the chords that cause this sensation, but rather, the space between the sound. The rests in a piece allow for reflection and appreciation. Then all that is left is anticipation of the next chord to bring another wave of awe.
I am grateful to sit in the audience this day; not doing vocal warm ups or reviewing my lyrics. Sitting in the audience drapes me in humility. To hear the performance of my talented classmates allows me to see that, without silence, sound is more difficult to define. A choir sometimes rushes from chord to chord, or cuts rests short to fill the awkward space or feel less vulnerable. I learned from my conductor that if you let the silence be its own part of the song, instead of the scraps, the effect of sound is elevated.
The world in which we live is a loud one, and it is often too hard to distinguish a heartfelt “I love you” from a casual “Hey, what’s up.” However, if we allow ourselves to hear the silence between sounds, we can appreciate each one in the way it is intended. To hear the silence is to not rush through everyday, but to stop and let life surround you, not overwhelm you.
My sophomore year of high school I was caught filling my life with noise. Everyday was about what I was doing tomorrow, and every second seemed to be too slow for my liking. I was moving so fast that I let things like the SAT or my lack of AP classes agitate me. As I matured I learned to tune out the cacophony of what comes next, and enjoy the silence of every moment an undisciplined choir might rush through.
The Madrigals are singing their closing piece called Sleep. It ends with hushed voices singing the word “sleep,” pulsating like a steady heartbeat, barely audible to the audience. Between each word is a long pause, followed by another beat of the heart, until finally, the last “sleep” is sung. As their voices gradually cease, the audience waits patiently for the next chord to resolve the suspension, but they are left waiting. The choir is on their toes fixed on the conductor. It is only when he drops his hands that they are allowed to rest. Such a moment needs no sound to fill space, just reflection from both the choir and the audience. It is the most beautiful silence you have ever heard, soon devoured by roaring, prideful applause.
About the author: Audrey Elsberry is a senior at Wilton High School in Wilton, CT. She has been a dedicated member of the Wilton High School choir for her four years of high school. She wrote this piece to combine her love for music with her passion for writing. The year after she wrote this piece, she became a member of the prestigious Madrigal choir she describes in the essay. Next year, Audrey will major in Journalism at the University of South Carolina.