I’m writing today from Bournemouth, England, where yesterday evening my partner and I saw the legendary Bob Dylan live and in the flesh. Whilst my other half is more the fan in our family, I was still hotly anticipating the evening. I mean, it’s Bob Dylan!
I was surprised about the lessons that I learnt. Rarely taking a break from my mindfulness practice makes me notice very unexpected things.
[The stage at Bob Dylan’s gig in Bournemouth, 2017]
Firstly, everyone – the hundreds, if not thousands, of people that were there surely were present to see and hear Bob Dylan, yes? No. Even I must admit that I was not fully in the moment. Instead I was flustered and frustrated. This was largely owing to two ladies seated behind me. They, like us, presumably had paid a fair way to get seats relatively near to the stage. Whilst they were screaming Bob’s name and clapping, like any good fan would do, they spent the rest of the gig talking. Not even about the music or how they were enjoying themselves, but about dinners and going out and things they did yesterday or months before, things they were going to do tomorrow. I am aware I will sound like a party pooper as they were having a good time. But I couldn’t help but think that they weren’t really in the moment. They had paid to see a musical legend, but instead ended up engrossed in conversation. This was one of those rare opportunities (with tickets selling by the snap of a finger) and they had missed it.
Meanwhile, I realised I was missing the opportunity too, perhaps knowing too much about a pair of strangers’ dinners of yesterday. I tried harder to focus on the music to block out the sound of their loud voices.
Then there was Bob and his band. So in sync. Their performance entirely balanced between each other. The micro details of what each performer was sounding, creating the greater whole. I’m not a massive Bob Dylan fan (sorry anyone who is), but I did appreciate the musicianship and the gig was enjoyable.
But there is a but. From start to finish, one song merged from one to the next, to the next, to the next. No ‘Hello Bournemouth, it’s great to be here’, none of your standard pleasantries. I could have forgone the introductions, but without the silence between every song or two, two hours back to back (minus the encore) made me realise that Silence Is Golden.
During my years studying music, we were always taught to respect the rests and the silence in every piece of music. It’s what maintains the drama. It gives the shade to the light of the music. Or perhaps light within the shade of the music. These days when I give presentations, during any presentation training you’re taught to take a break between slides. Allow your audiences’ ears to rest and their minds to have time to process and appreciate your message.
Any one or two or even three songs back to back would have been fine. But prior to the encore, the lack of silence made me realise that the bulk of songs that night had the same tempo and the same vibe. When Autumn Leaves came on, I was relieved for the change of pace, although it wasn’t until nearer the end of the gig. Even songs like Desolation Row didn’t have the same impact as they would have had there been a moment of silence before or after.
The combination of the continuous talking of the women seated behind me and the two hours wall of music left me shocked that I was clamouring for silence. To me, silence in music or present in the makeup of the sounds of life is what a canvas is to an artist. Silence is where lies great opportunity and space. It is the canvas upon which every music note or sound can be set. In visual terms, the lack of silence is like a painting with no canvas or paper or whatever else it is decorating. There would be no balance or backdrop to herald the creation of art. There is no such thing as presence without absence. The absence (silence), the presence (the music or artwork) and the contrast (everything in between) is what makes a creation something to behold.
So, probably a bit of an unpopular post today, but I could not help but revere silence on a day that was supposed to be about the music.