A Teacher’s Perspective: The Sound of Silence

“The summer winds are blowing across the sea in gales
The ships are outward going, the wind is in their sails
They are so swift and free.....”

In a week, the grade school students and faculty will
gather in Dakin Hall and sing those words in our final
song of the year. The winds have been blowing for a
while now, coming in waves of excited conversation at
recess, between classes, and sometimes in transitions
between activities in our lessons. We all love school,
and we all love that feeling of the glorious, seemingly
endless summer right around the corner. And we do not
hesitate to talk about it!

A few weeks ago, as I awoke, I heard the gentle sweet
songs of the birds just outside my window on busy
California Street accompanied by the far away, strong,
and steady foghorn. Often that music is obscured by
one or more sirens, the recycling truck, or my own inner
chatter as I prepare for the day. I feel lucky when all is
still enough both inside and around me to be able to
really stop, notice and listen to the quiet before moving
along with composing the symphony of the day.
I attend and participate in many concerts throughout
the year, and I am often struck by how rare it is when a stunning piece of music stops and an audience is spellbound enough to sit with it for even a few seconds before bursting into applause. Rudolf Steiner told music teachers to allow a moment of silence after a lesson to let the spiritual substance of what we have created together enter into the student.  This is one of many indications from the founder of Waldorf education that I contemplate and strive for on a daily basis, both as a teacher and a practicing musician.  One can experience exactly what he means by that in the moments of quiet after witnessing or participating in a live performance. It is the relationship of sound and quiet that creates music.  It is the alternation of music and quiet in a lesson that weaves together the possibility for new growth and learning for the children, both in music class and whatever might follow.  It is the ability to truly, authentically listen that creates meaningful conversation.  Tolerating silence, both our own and that of the other, helps us compose a life of listening.  Listening creates and builds relationships, and strong and healthy social working.

I wish all of you and your children a restful, peaceful summer. I thank you for the opportunity to make glorious, beautiful music and to work on showing the children what can happen when we are still and quiet, too.  Take some time after the concert in the park; even if the crowd is going wild, allow a moment to receive the gifts of the music.  Listen for the music of nature —quiet breezes, the powerful roar of the ocean, and the curious songs of frogs and crickets. Listen as well to your own questions, and the spoken and—even more important—the unspoken questions of our children.  And remember once in a while to “practice silence.”

Fall will return soon enough with the children back in school, working once more, breathing in and out with rest and activity, and gathering in Dakin Hall, singing “Wind in the trees blows loud for summer’s last song....”

-Lisa Sargent, Grade School Music Teacher