Sound, silence, stillness

(I’m cheating a little bit on the writing challenge. I spent the weekend on the central coast and it was sunny. I was more focused on two straight days of uninterrupted relaxation with friends and good wine. Oh Paso Robles, I love you and your delicious hills!)

I had a few days off from work last week and took a yin class that I had been trying to get to for a while. The teacher is also a musician and we struck up a conversation about music theory and yoga before the class. I was in nerd heaven having a short conversation about yoga that included the sentence, “You can go I-IV-V, but you can also throw in a ii chord or change the key.” Then she used twelve tone music as a metaphor in class. I went home and listened to the Berg violin concerto. I need more Thursdays off!

Yoga, music, it’s the same thing – but don’t take it from me….

(This is how I remember this going down. It’s not verbatim.)

I was at work in April listening to a question and answer session at the conclusion of a master class with the Russian pianist Vladimir Feltsman. As I wrote earlier, it was after thirty minutes of him patiently working with a musician who was not prepared to play for him. One of the audience members asked him for advice on developing technique.

“Technique? What is technique?” He said, “Putting my fingers on piano keys? There are nineteen-year-old kids at Julliard with technique playing Bach Goldberg Variations faster and more accurate than I. There are better dressed men with technique making more money than I do playing Chopin. But it is empty. Just noise.”

He pointed at two people in the front row and asked, “You – where does sound come from?”

One said, “When I touch the key on the piano,” Feltsman frowned and said, “This piano is inanimate object. How can sound come from inanimate object?! You,” he pointed at the second person, “where does sound come from?” The poor kid was clearly terrified and said something that inspired Feltsman to say, “Absurd!”

“Sound,” he said, taking a deep breath and a long pause, “comes from silence. Now the real question is: where does silence come from? Silence comes from a stillness. I’m not going to lure you into some ridiculous metaphysical discussion, because nothing good will come of it. It would be a pointless dialogue. Music is one way, one language, to connect to that place, that energy, that stillness. There are other ways to get there. Music is one spoke on the wheel – the spokes spin on the wheel, all of them are important, but they revolve around a center that does not move. The center stays still. It just is…and that is where sound comes from – silence, stillness. Otherwise, it is just noise.”

I think I was holding my breath while he said this.

When we were leaving the venue, I told him that his words on silence helped me understand why I have found the practice in yoga that I have been searching for since leaving my classical music behind. He interrupted me, threw his hands in the air and said, with a sigh, “Yes! Music, yoga – all same thing! Why people always have to separate this from that is absurd!”

I loved that he didn’t want to get all metaphysical – sometimes you can really talk something to death. He asked what kind of yoga I practice, said some really funny things that I really appreciate about people who run off to Nepal and get fancy Tibetan titles, and left it at that. Less talking, more walking.

When I speak, I want my words to come from that still place. When I move, I want that movement to come from that still place. That in itself defines the practice on and off the mat for me.

3 thoughts on “Sound, silence, stillness

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