Silence leaves space for reflection and deepening awareness.

Getting comfortable with silence is part of our learning as musicians, as human beans. Many creative people experience silence as the backdrop, the background, the “negative space”, the canvas, on which they set their ideas.

I grew up in a family that practiced a gentle and liberal Quaker philosophy. In that tradition people work on developing spiritual discernment and practice “holding” silence so that we can be more open to hearing/knowing the voice of Spirit when it comes and then we are moved in the moment to say/do/channel the right thing from a clearer mind/heart. Cultivating this “skill” gets us away from dogma, doctrine and formulaic thinking, instead, feeding the cosmic dance, constantly refreshing, being spontaneous and organically evolving. We can apply this idea to creative inspiration, composition and improvising very easily.

I did a beautiful improvisation with some students in a clinic I was giving on “Our Voices and Our Well Being”, at a local arts high school yesterday. It is a structured improvisation composed by Pauline Oliveros, the American composer, who has focused much of her musical explorations on deep listening and sonic awareness. It’s called, Tuning Meditation:

The musicians/singers/improvisers sit in silence, listening and focusing on taking deep breaths. Then randomly, each one begins with one long tone that comes from deep within themselves. Then they sit in silence, listening again, breathing. Their second tone is an imitating tone, so they hear something from someone else in the group and try to copy it as best they can. Again, when they finish the tone, they sit and listen and breathe. Their third tone is a completely new tone that is UNlike anything they have heard…so, utterly new and inspired. Then silence again, with listening and breathing. Everyone repeats this cycle three times. No one needs to feel as if they must start and stop at the same time, which actually creates better opportunities to listen and respond, because there are more layers of sound.

In this way, Silence can serve: Internal tuning, external tuning, tuning to possibility.

-AG, Toronto, October 18th, 2014

About Ali Garrison

Alexandra (Ali) Garrison mezzo soprano/performer, international voice teacher, clinician BMA in Vocal Performance, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor Founding member, the Waverlies, the Nathaniel Dett Chorale ACTRA member and Gemini Nominee Operatic, theatre roles, concert soloist, Specializing in music for a more harmonious world
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