Jazz legend Miles Davis once noted that “half of all music is silence.” It’s an important point to remember, and not only for an (often-overzealous) drummer like me. Our lives today tend to be short on both literal and metaphorical silence, thanks to the handy devices that fill our every second with sound and fury. We forget that moments of silence are often the times when we hear the most profound things, not to mention the rests that enable larger tunes to take shape.
It hasn’t always been this way …
When I was a little boy, I used to have to sit still (and silent!) for church each Sunday morning, nearly always in the first seat of the second row at Ravensworth Baptist Church. For reasons I don’t fully understand, no one ever sat in the first row at Ravensworth. Perhaps we were all being pious.
Anyway, from my seat in the de facto front I could see my mother clearly, perched behind the piano that flanked the altar. When mom wasn’t actually playing that piano, her eyes would alternately focus on the preacher and scan the congregation. Whenever she did the latter, I was watching for her, waiting for her eyes to land on me. The moment they did, mom would wink–as stealthily as you could imagine, in front of the whole congregation but so only I could see.
Those winks, fired almost imperceptibly and always with her deft left eye, would establish a secret, silent link between us–a connection that meant more to me than anything the preacher might be saying. They would also get me over the harder moments of sitting silently.
When the preacher would later ask us to bow our heads and “listen for that still, small voice within,” I was better prepared to try. I didn’t know what such a voice would sound like. But I knew what it would feel like: like a knowing wink cast across a silent church, to a boy who deeply wanted to be heard.
In the years since then, I’ve often stopped myself in difficult moments and tried to force myself to listen–or, better put, to find the sort of stillness and silence in which alone real listening is possible. I never know exactly where to find that sort of stillness. But I know that it starts with that post-wink feeling, that awareness of deep, secret, silent connection.
And that’s why, in little moments for as long as you can remember, I’ve winked at you, too–always with my left eye, just like mom did it. Because I want you to know that feeling of secret, silent connection. And because I want you to hear the silences in life as part of a larger improvisation, a chance to catch your breath before the next big note gets played.
In other words: I want you to know that half of all music is silence, that real listening requires deep connection, and that sometimes what you need isn’t more information, it’s stillness.
Plus maybe a wink that says “I’m here, and you can do this.”
Consider this blog that wink.