Just a few seconds before 11am on Wednesday 11 November 2015, I was descending the steps into Kings Cross Underground Station in London when a voice came over the tannoy asking that we join with the staff of London Underground in 2 minutes silence to honour those people who had been killed in two world wars and more recent hostilities.
The effect was extraordinary – the people who heard the message hesitated for a moment and one by one stopped their journey and became still and silent. The seconds moved slowly and as new people arrived, they stopped and joined in the silent meditation. The effect was surreal: rather like a film where the action has been paused. And then just as surprisingly the voice came over the tannoy thanking us for joining in the time of remembrance and the film of life jerked into action and off we travelled again.
What will remain with me was the effect of that silence in a busy underground terminal and the way that it drew people together and held our shared attention, making the moment significant in a way that nothing else could.
The significance of silence is recognised by any performer, it is part of your technique of holding the audience with you. Silence is as much a part of the composer’s palette as the notes, and we the interpreters are responsible for inviting the listeners onto the musical canvas with us to be part of the composition in its entirety in both silence and sound.
What better example than John Cage’s 4’33” for solo piano, a period of total performing silence, but joining the attention of performer and audience and the ambience of the hall into the creative wholeness of the live performance.
I carry that silence on the underground with me now, both as a creative expression and also in remembrance, and all the more so as I think of what has happened over the last weekend to the people of Paris.