Monday, 19 November 2012

Music and silence

This weekend some thoughts about performances and concerts struck me that aren't regularly discussed but that I think are very interesting, and worth examining briefly. As well as doing some conducting at the National Concert Band Festival (where I heard my old group, Northamptonshire County Youth Concert Band) I also went to see some shows put on in Oxford by friends of mine (A Little Night Music and Hansel and Gretel - both fantastic). In each performance it was the end that really struck me.

It seems to me that the very best performances often create a very special, almost magical, atmosphere as they draw to a close - whether they end softly or with a bang (although I guess it is more common in the former). The audience's attention is captivated so completely that they remain under the spell of the music for a few seconds after it has finished, held in place by the continuing effect of what they have just heard. I don't think this is necessarily a return to reality from escapism - music often forces us to confront various aspects of our lives, whether directly, as in Britten's War Requiem, or through the experiences we associate with particular works. Instead I think it's more of a return to the present from the temporal ebb and flow of the music, and maybe also to a different, less intensely aesthetic perception of our surroundings - but this is really just speculation on my part.

Of course, there are also some exceptional performances where the audience immediately explodes into applause, but I think those times when that special silence descends makes us realise how much power we have as musicians to capture people's attention. For me, it also serves as a reminder of why I love music, and why I chose to study it - it can be easy to lose track of that sometimes when I'm fighting through essay deadlines or struggling with a particularly dense section of a fugue.

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