Eric's meaty face  Annotations

Some Days in the Life - Silence in Concert Halls

Posted 4/18/99

Current Entry
Personal History
Essay Page
Send Comments

A friend of mine once said that the most tempting sound in the world is silence in an auditorium. She always had trouble in that one second before a concert started. You know the one. While waiting for the concert, everybody murmurs to each other in that low voice. It's white sound that kind of relaxes you. We're used to noise. Traffic noise, fluorescent lights, the hum of computer fans, the TV on in the other room, the stereo... you know, noise. We screen it out. It forms the boundaries of our mental conversation -- the one we have with ourself. Even if we don't use language for it (I do), we have it on a constant basis.

Silence -- real silence -- is jarring to that. Your thoughts don't know where the boundaries are, so they kind of close in on themselves if you're the sort of person to not make a fuss.

This friend of mine is not that sort of person. In fact, she resents that sort of person.

Normally, that noise keeps her under control. We're not usually without it. You go to a movie theater, and everyone keeps talking until the Really Loud Sound comes from the speakers. You go to a play, and everyone keeps talking until the curtains open, there's polite applause and the play starts. And once its started, silence doesn't count, because you're watching something and that confuses your ears into thinking it's not really in silence, unless you're watching Mimes in which case your ears ask you politely to buy a gun.

But at a concert -- a classical concert, not one with a mosh pit -- you're stuck. The conductor comes out. For no good reason, everyone applauds him as though to encourage his walking a straight line and waving. He then turns, and raises his baton.

And everyone shuts up. This is the pregnant pause. The moment of transition, when the crowd becomes an audience -- but there's nothing out there for them to listen to. And that's exactly what they're doing. Listening to nothing.

My friend finds this moment irresistible. She once broke into "Lullaby of Broadway" before the Conductor could start. I was there. The conductor turned bright red and made sort of a huffing sound, and whirled on her. Laughter burst through the crowd -- this guy was pompous to begin with, and we were a college crowd. Kate was asked to leave and I went along with her. She swears she just couldn't pass up that rich, creamy silence, even though no one was there to hear her.

Which is why I'm writing this journal.