French composer, Claude Debussy said, “Music is the space between the notes.”

And while that is not all that music is, of course, the silence is a crucial part of the experience of listening to music.

Although, John Cage went so far as to compose the ground-breaking conceptual work entitled: 4’33” – during which a musician sits on stage with her instrument as if to play, but never plays a note for the duration of the piece. She might turn some pages, adjust her chair as part of the theatrics of the moment, but other than that…silence…until she stands, bows and walks off stage.

What one realizes in considering these two ideas is that 1. silence is a necessary juxtaposition to sound and harmony – as dark is to light and open is to closed, and 2. silence isn’t really silence…it’s life!

When a musician sits on stage for 4 minutes and 33 seconds, it is the sounds of the room, the people breathing, coughing and probably becoming uncomfortable, as well as the sounds of world outside the concert hall that become the symphony in that moment for each mind to behold. It is also the mind itself that fills the silence: thoughts become melodies and the use of attention becomes the conductor guiding, moving and shaping the experience.

So where does the silence end and the music begin, really?

Something similar happens in learning – especially in a voice lesson – or at least, in my opinion, it should…

There is singing and not singing.
There is working and not working.
Talking, not talking.

I find that when I am able to facilitate one of those really special lessons, the kind that reaches in deep and rearranges way more than just one’s singing (It can change the course of one’s life!), rest and silence play major roles in it’s composition.

Here’s a general score for just such a lesson:
The student arrives. We say hello and check in.
Perhaps there’s a problem to report, a question…perhaps not.

The student sings a particular song or passage.
While he’s singing, something catches my attention. Maybe his stance or manner of execution; his breathing or mouth. I home in on it.

When he finishes, he states his observations.
I hold mine in my awareness, but don’t say anything.
(silence)

We start “the lesson” with altering his position and guiding his awareness through his body to the area I’ve homed in on. It’s general. Open.
(silence)

We begin a particular sound. It’s slow and gentle. Easy. More listening than doing. I guide his attention. After a while it grows and expands. Something shifts.
We stop. We rest.
(silence)

We begin the sound again, this time with variations.
We stop. We rest.
(silence)

He sings the original song or passage. It’s different. We observe together.
We stop. We rest.
(silence)

We return to the sound, more variations, perhaps some complications.
We stop. We rest.
(silence)

He sings…we continue…

We do this again and again; building the awareness and possibility into action and ability, resting in silence between each new exploration. Perhaps we add new sounds, new movements. It depends.

In the end, he sings one last time and that very thing I noticed in the beginning has shifted and changed. It’s clear – not only to me, but to him. He observes now what is different. He sees the shift. He hears the music. He says in his own words what I could have said in the beginning, but did not.

We stop. We rest.
(silence)

It is in the resting – the silent-but-not-really-silent-resting – that the learning actually occurs. This is when the brain takes the new information from each exploration and moves it to another part of the brain; the part that makes and stores habits. When this happens, this has the effect of updating his unconscious file called “singing” or “this song.” It reaches in deep, deeper than either of us could understand.

When he returns from the silent resting… his brain has changed. It’s new. His idea of his voice has changed. It too is new.

This can sometimes be quite surprising if one is not used to trusting in the profound intelligence that lives in the silence between doing and not doing, but nonetheless…it’s there. It happens.
It’s always there.

It can always happen…

Stop. Rest.
(silence)