For the past few days, I’ve found myself visiting the Dominican Republic as the guest of a program called FEDUJAZZ, which provides music education to kids from impoverished area of the island as well as joining forces with the people behind the Dominican Republic Jazz Festival.
As part of the whirlwind of activity surrounding this annual event, a group of young musicians from The Berklee Global Jazz Institute visit the region to perform at the festival and offer up workshops for kids in the region. The six artists that were part of this contingent were clearly inspired and excited about the experience, as you could see all of them spending the quiet moments of the trips around the area processing the sights and sounds from the Dominican Republic and working out how to both report back on them to their teachers and supervisors and how it incorporate it all into their work.
That is, I think, part of why the bass player in this group - a lovely German woman weaned on a diet of classical music but making her first steps in to the rapidly moving waters of jazz - decided to turn the tables on me last night, making me the subject of some ongoing interviews she’s been conducting on the concept of silence. What, she asked at first, did silence mean to me?
I talked about stillness and meditation, how silence as a concept can happen even when there is sound going on all around it. Something akin to John Cage’s 4’33”, a bold compositional act that forces us to retrain our minds and senses to take in what is happening around the stage where it is being “performed.” I mentioned the experiences people have had in anechoic chambers, those rooms that supposedly inspired Cage’s piece where people say that, in the almost complete absence of ambient noise, they can hear the tiny sounds their bodies make.
We also talked about how uncomfortable silence can make people. I used my go-to example which was the moment in a Patton Oswalt stand up set when his story about having fierce, unprotected sex with a young lady and, for safety’s sake, the spent part of the next day getting her the Morning After pill. The story takes a shift into softness and vulnerability, with plenty of silence, which freaked out one awful gent in the audience. I’ll let you listen below to hear what happened next…
That, in part, led to something that myself and my interlocutor had very much in common. In the early days of my relationship with my now-and-forever-wife, I would make snarky comments about how ridiculous I thought it was to see couples out in public together, sitting in silence. It was something I would see mostly in restaurants. It was generally an older couple, each doing their own thing as they dined or waited on their meals. I made a mental note to never ever do that to my betrothed now or in the future.
15 years into my relationship with this wonderful woman that I share a home with, I realize how absolutely foolish that mindset is. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with sharing some silent space with someone you love. It doesn’t have to be when you’re bingeing a show on Netflix or in those delightfully heavy pre-or-post-coital moments. Simply being with someone and reaching that level of comfort and security that allows you both to let those quiet moments go a little longer is truly rarefied air for any relationship.
As much as I love talking with my wife as we recount our days or tell as-yet untold stories from our lives, I’m starting to more fully appreciate and luxuriate in those times when just being near her, without words, is more than enough.