Carlos touched on a bit of a raw nerve for me last night. In amongst the many gems he revealed during the course of the rehearsal, he spoke about the power of silence. And at the beginning of the rehearsal he made us observe silence twice as part of preparing us to sing sections of this wonderful music. It seemed to work. It was another hard-working, effective and thoroughly satisfying rehearsal – for us choristers, certainly.
Why the raw nerve?
I can no longer experience silence.
For the past couple of years I have been living with tinnitus. I had thought I was special, but it turns out from conversations I am by no means alone. The symptoms vary. For some, like myself, it is generally manageable, but for others it is a serious condition affecting sleep, social interaction and all sorts of fundamental human activities. All levels of the condition produce constant sound. Some people hear loud, high-pitched buzzing noises all the time which interfere with daily activities: others such as myself experience a continuous sound which is not unlike the ambient noise in an airplane. My version does not affect me when there are other noises around, but does intrude when there is, otherwise, silence.
For all of us with the condition, silence – the absence of sound – is no longer available. At the end of a Beethoven symphony, alternating loud chords and rests, the rests are now coloured by sound. Dramatic moments in plays and opera are sullied by sound. Out in the bush, far away from traffic and people, there is still sound. Sitting or lying, meditating, there is sound.
Losing the capacity to be really quiet has been a revelation to me. It is only when I became aware that I could no longer experience silence, that I began to realize its true value.
For those whose tinnitus is severe, you have my hearfelt sympathy. I cannot imagine how you cope.
For those without tinnitus, I urge you to make the most of every silence you can find. In this busy, noisy world, it is a truly wonderful experience.