Music and silence

By Mary Green - 27 November 2017
A picture of the organ at Norwich Cathedral
“If there was no such thing as music, there would be no God”, someone once said to me. As a spiritually diverse group of people gather in their own silence, the bell sounds the hour, and the whisper of solo music weaves a harmonic thread through the empty space, which at some profound level, unites all those who have gathered in the Silence.

Musician Vicky Miller has played music before and after Silence in Norwich Cathedral on a number of occasions. Here she shares some of her experience of silence and music...

Before:

“As I prepared my pieces for the Silence I realised that something new was emerging in me, an understanding that learning music should not be about endlessly working at a piece to achieve how I think it should sound and then trying to recreate that in performance with my best effort. Rather it is working at getting to know it from the inside, making sure my fingers know their way round it, letting my ears absorb it's richness of possibilities and then waiting to see what happens when you finally present it. I am simply the conduit. That is why to play at the Silence is such a treasured opportunity, because it is about playing in the most forgiving and welcoming space, to the least judgemental or critical listeners. I can feel safe to move outside my comfort zone and explore what it means to feel alive as a musician. Although I am starting to feel the usual worry that there’s only one more day before I play, I am also curious and even a little excited to know how it will sound. I realise that I will be sad when it is over”.

After:

“Silence, as every musician knows, is a vital part of performance. The moment before making the first note, pauses and gaps between notes and movements, all are an integral part of the whole. But on Monday night, as I waited for the bell to finish ringing the seventh hour, I found myself pondering the very opposite, namely the role of music in silence. It was humbling to think back to when I first played here and to see the journey I had travelled to this present time. I had thought in my ignorance that playing was about me and my music. Now, nearly five years later, I simply sit hugging my cello to keep us both warm, looking up at the breathtaking vaulted ceiling and knowing
that the sounds I would soon make would be circling up and up, an offering to goodness knows what. We can replicate that pre-playing moment in practice at home but not the sense of the surrounding void or the unseen listeners, not the genuine anticipation of the unknown and unavoidable lack of certainty as I start. So why is it, that after another hour of Silence for both me and my instrument, the second playing feels so utterly different, so secure and strong however challenging what I have chosen to play might be. Somehow the Silence has transformed the player, the listener and even the awesome space that accepts the offering of the music, and somewhere therein I believe lies the answer to my earlier pondering."

The next Silence in Norwich Cathedral takes place on Monday 27 November at 7.00pm. All are welcome.

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