There’s nothing quite like collective silence. Whether you’re standing at a school Remembrance Day assembly as the Last Post is played on the bugle, or the moments before communion is served at church, there’s something special about collective silence. Silence makes some people feel awkward. At the same time, it has a way of tapping into our vulnerable parts. It’s the means in which the soul speaks, and is heard. Collective silence is usually an intended experience, therefore, is less awkward and intentionally taps into our soul.
I had the opportunity to experience collective silence during a concert of one of my favourite singer-songwriter artists. When we arrived at the venue we were shocked to find out that we would not be sitting in the theatre seats. Instead, we were ushered onto the stage to a table only a few feet away from the very intimate make-shift stage. It was everything I dreamed of – a dimly lit room with a sea of small tables, each with a candle. The small stage faced the audience and their backdrop was the imperial-looking empty theatre seats. The room glowed with crisp white, blue and orange spot lights that illuminated the dancing dry ice high above the stage.
The well-planned atmosphere set the tone for what I was about to experience. Like most fans, when you see your favourite band you feel the excitement more intensely minutes before the band arrives on stage. I was in a happy place – anticipating certain songs and elated that I got to share this experience with my loved one and a room full of fans.
After the opening artist exited the stage and the crowd had a few minutes to stretch, the moment I was waiting for had arrived. There was no grand entrance. He was dressed quite casual and addressed the audience like friends. The first few chords synchronized with the warm whispers of his voice called us in. The crowd’s excitement was not concealed, and after the first few songs the largely generational crowd clapped (which was most appropriate for this artist – it wasn’t a chanting, screaming, moshing type of band). As the evening progressed I became mesmerized by the collective silence. The music generated the silence. It created a sense of awe. To me, it felt like the music danced on my soul. I feel a lot. Usually it’s the emotional response to daily stresses, but not tonight. Tonight the music tapped into the depths of my unattended emotions. His musical stories played in perfect unison by each band member entered my space and danced. The mournful melodies matched with honest lyrics and the strikingly somber bowing of the violinist swayed back and forth on my soul. Those pure emotions of joy and sorrow surfaced and met each other in a dance. Together with strangers, silent and in awe, my soul experienced the dance. I felt connected to the stories not entirely because of firsthand experience but in an empathic manner.
In the silence, I wondered if the crowd was experiencing what I was experiencing: the resuscitation of emotions through song. “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1). In my emotionally parched world, I experienced a wonderful array of emotions during the concert. Was it a spiritual experience? Yes, without question. God was present in the collective silence, in the stories sung and harmonious melodies of each song. My soul thirsted for connection and an emotional awakening, and I found God.
I love it when musicians are all right when a crowd responds with silence. I know sometimes musicians call for ‘response’ and seem to feel insecure during silence. To me, when music is so inspiring, silence is a golden sign of respect. Collective silence is a powerful means of connecting us with each other and our forgotten emotions.
To you Donovan Woods, I say thank you for your accessible and beautifully sorrowful songs that aren’t depressing, but awaken long-lost emotions and make them dance.
*photos by author