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The Listening Silence

July 19, 2010

It’s been blogging silence on my end for a good week and a bit.  Wonderful weeks with nieces tend to make that happen.

She’s gone home now, so while I take a few days to gently retransition back to the land of normal routines and sleep-full nights, let me leave you with this orchestral performance of an oldie but quiet John Cage goodie.

I used to flip flop (depending on my mood of the day) between thinking this is either a total joke… or it’s groundbreaking genius.  And I’m pretty sure I’m not the first to wrestle such thoughts.  It’s definitely a piece that doesn’t leave space for ambivalent reaction.  However, as I watch the above YouTube again, I’m reminded of a line in the movie “August Rush” (2007) where August says, “The music is all around us; all you have to do is listen”.

It seems these days that taking time for listening silence is more of a guilt-ridden activity, but 4’33” happily offends our Type-A tendencies by inviting us to engage with the stillness on an intensely personal level, ensuring that none of us experience this piece in the same way.  In doing so, Cage creates an open dialogue of sorts, a forum to reconsider our previous concepts of what ‘sound’ and ‘music’ entail, as well as giving us a pause to listen for the hidden song that permeates us, waiting to be heard.

While I don’t think I’ll be running out to buy the CD any time soon, if music is “the art of arranging sounds in time to produce a composition that elicits an aesthetic response in a listener”  (American Heritage Dictionary), Cage, you could say, has succeeded.

Maybe I’ll get to experience 4’33” live in a concert hall someday – I’d like to, just to know what it’s like to share such awkward intimacy with a roomful of people (I should have been a sociologist).  But also to find out what unexpected songs I’d notice in the process.  The bass drum of my beating heart; the stringed rasp of my neighbor’s breathing; the piccolo creaks of shifting bodies in chairs.  It would be fascinating, I think.  In the meantime, I’ll work on my own solo performance of this piece.  Once I find a copy of the score…


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