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Silence in music. Silence and music.

I used to teach piano in schools. At the start of each new school year, I would speak to a class, or all the classes in a school year, or perhaps a whole school, to tell them about the piano and piano lessons. The idea was to recruit new pupils. Usually, I took the opportunity to tell the children something about music in general, and how music worked on the piano in particular.

I would ask: What is the world of music? Answers would range from Instruments to Sounds.

Listen to this, I would say, and then I would be very still. The silence that followed was always noticeable, because at first it was unexpected, then it became puzzling, and a little later something would begin to dawn on the children.

The silence of music, I would say, is like the night sky. It is dark and full of stars. The darkness is the reason we can see the light of the stars. The darkness is like silence in music and the stars are like the sounds which we call music. We can only see the stars in the night sky because there is no light. In the light of the day we can see no stars. Daylight is like noise. Without the darkness we can see no stars. Without the silence, we can hear no music.

In a sense, the world of music is a silent world. And the stars which permeate this darkness, this silence, are the sounds of music.

When performing on a musical instrument, we wait for silence before we begin, and if people are listening, they will be silent. The only sounds in this silence are the ones we make with our instrument. The room is silent except for these sounds. The silence is still there in the background, and sometimes we bring it to the foreground with a break in the sound of our playing. This moment of stillness is when we become aware again of the silence surrounding our music-making.

The silence just before the beginning of music performance is charged with anticipation. The music begins. It does not break the silence. Rather it transforms it.

Archie McLellan