The sound of silence

The sound of silence. Rebecca Reynolds blog. Artwork © Ben Nicholson

Artwork © Ben Nicholson

Some readers may be familiar with the musician John Cage’s work 4’ 33”, which consists of four minutes and 33 seconds of… silence. I once heard someone say on the radio that the point of the work was to demonstrate that there was no such thing as true silence – there will always be things that you can hear, even when there is no music.

I prefer to think of it as an appreciation of silence; an acknowledgement that there can be too much noise, too much input; not enough time to step back, to process, to decide what is important. When teaching, too, it is important that the student’s processing of new information is given time. In reading lessons, for example, there needs to be silence so that students can actually read, process, take time to understand for themselves. Sometimes this does not come naturally to teachers, who may think that they always need to be communicating.

But why set aside 4 ½ minutes, or any other amount of time, for silence? Why not acknowledge that silent moments often occur and we can use them when they happen? Well – we can. This may be one significance of the work being called 4’ 33” rather than, say, 10’. It is an untidy and random-seeming number, as though the time has been snatched.

But I think the idea of purposely setting aside time for the sound of silence is to encourage concentration, a heightened consciousness. This is encouraged in prayer and meditation but can also happen in lesson time, whether in the classroom or online.

It is the opposite of a busy multitasking web-surfing consciousness. But there is no reason why the web too cannot encourage focused, meditative attention. My next blog post will be on my favourite quiet websites. And, in keeping with the topic, I promise it will be short.

March 24, 2015