Time was when I had a record player, a car radio, and a portable radio that all got cranked up pretty loudly. I’m sure my parents and co-workers and friends might have thought I’d gone deaf from listening to my favorite stuff at top volume, and possibly, mad from thinking of doing such a thing with even the most subtle and silky classical music. I think perhaps I did deafen myself a little, but that more likely was [ahem] situational deafness, the kind that causes young persons to lose the ability to hear and understand their parents, co-workers and friends, never mind their bosses. Even at my most ridiculous, I don’t think I managed to blast my records and radio devices as loudly as many of my peers did theirs.
Here I am, antique as I’ve grown, and very glad indeed that after all of that I can still hear the subtle and silky pianissimos of great singers and players, and yet I still do love to get my socks knocked off from time to time. What can be more exciting and energizing than a loud yet magically tuneful phrase belted out by a skillful symphony chorale or fabulous gospel choir when the text demands such dynamics? I can sit in the back of the rehearsal hall and just plain hug myself for happiness when the whole group gets to that gorgeous blastissimo peak of the piece. I love to hear that pulsing, pounding joy when a pianist or organist puts the pedal to the proverbial and actual metal for the topmost moment of a blues riff, a prelude and fugue, a smashing concerto. If it peels back my scalp just a little, who am I to complain when the music is so potent! A few paltry hairs off my head are small sacrifice for the great pleasures of blessedly blasting music.As long as it’s good, well executed, and thrilling, loudness is not such a bad thing. It might even drown out some of the sadder sounds of the day if we let it. Children who have not yet learned the meaning of the phrase ‘indoor voice’ can exhaust us, but at times in their own boisterous ways they can simply fill us up with welling gladness by chirping to test the sound of their own voices in a large empty space, by squealing with amazement at beauties we’ve forgotten to appreciate, by shouting our names too loudly because we are all the way across the room and they love us so. How can we not love, too, the sounds of finely honed music in all of its patterns and rhythms and tones when they spin into vortices of loud celebration!
Silence is both elusive and therefore, golden in this life. Even when we can escape the ambient clamor of our everyday existence it’s rather rare to achieve the sort of true silence that’s found in deep contemplation, deeper meditation or deepest sleep. Our own brains make an immense quantity of distracting and sometimes just plain disconcerting noise so much of the time that it’s rather remarkable we even know what silence is or can be.It’s almost ironic, then, that what makes inner calm and silence possible for me is often music. The way that music can clear my mind of mess and detritus, allow me to empty myself of unproductive or unpleasant things and focus on things of grace and beauty until my mind opens up so wide that it can embrace genuine calm, peace, contentment and meaningful introspection, achieve a kind of silence that transcends nothingness and surpasses quietude. Music makes me whole.
I was just strolling along and running errands, minding my own business, when I spotted this little twosome toddling along a nearby lawn. The way that they bobbed in unison, then in counter-rhythms, then in unison again, side by side, made me think of piano keys. They were like visual music, these birds, unselfconsciously creating a silent but cheering melody as they made their way across the grass. And they were in sharp contrast, being mainly black and white, to the Technicolor world all around them which suddenly seemed a little dull and plebeian by comparison.
And I thought, that’s how art works for me. It’s not that it’s always spectacular in its showy presence, brilliantly executed or wildly original–just that it strikes me at the right time and in the right way to make me see both the art and its context a little bit differently. It’s one of the reasons that I so love black and white visual artworks, in fact: that the simple removal of the known and expected colors of the subject can make me see the mundane as magical and contemplate the distinct wonders of things that ordinarily I might pass by without noticing. I suppose it would be good if I could learn to do this with a whole lot more of my world a whole lot more often, and perhaps I would refresh my sense of wonder enough to truly appreciate how fantastic ‘ordinary’ life really is.