John Cage, silence, & God’s Grace

I am not an early riser.

For those of you who wake up ready to take the bull by the horns – I salute you.  But me…ugh.  I need a few cups of coffee and a couple minutes get my mind ready for the day.

I mention this because the other morning I was (reluctantly) up, and as I was reading the morning’s news the birds outside my office window began their morning song.  I was struck by the sudden onslaught of melodies sung bright and early.  So I stopped to listen (you never know where an idea might come from) but the computer made a very noisy hum.  I put it to sleep. Then the fan was making too much noise, I turned it off.  Next the low tones of the AC in the house began to distract me…  Even in the most quite moment of the day there were so many sounds to be heard.  Ever been in a quiet place and began to hear all the little things happening?

John Cage was an avant-garde composer of the 20th Century and is best known for his piece, 4’33’’It is a composition written for solo piano – and the performer does not play a single note!  Rather the performer will close the piano lid and keep time with a stopwatch, and then open the piano’s lid to signify the end of the movement (of which there are three).  Is the performer playing any music?  No.  But, there are all sorts of sounds present that in fact comprise the composition.  The stories vary as to the conception of Cage’s piece.  Many have said the “White Paintings” of Robert Rauschenberg inspired him.  But in 1951, Cage visited the anechoic chamber at Harvard University.  This is a room built to absorb ALL sound.  Mr. Cage went into this chamber expecting to “hear” silence, but he did not.  Later he wrote, “I heard two sounds, one high and one low. When I described them to the engineer in charge, he informed me that the high one was my nervous system in operation, the low one my blood in circulation.”

Even in a place designed to completely eradicate sound – there is sound.

Just as we will always hear sound, the Spirit of God is always present in our lives.  God indeed knows the hairs on our head (or perhaps the lack thereof) – and freely offers the gift of salvation.  The grace of God has been freely given to us all.  This grace was present from the beginning, and continues to be so.  Though at times we may not be able to see, or hear, or feel God’s presence – or perhaps we really don’t want to – God is there in the midst.  And God’s Love will never leave us.

Cage later said this in regards to 4’33’’’s premiere, “They missed the point.  There’s no such thing as silence.  What they thought was silence, because they didn’t know how to listen, was full of accidental sounds.  You could hear the wind stirring outside during the first movement.  During the second, raindrops began pattering the roof, and during the third the people themselves made all kinds of interesting sounds as they talked or walked out.”

May we know that God is always present.

Curious about 4’33”?  Here it is.  Please note it has been scored for orchestra, and how the conductor wipes his brow after the first movement.  Not to mention the sheer amount of coughing between movements…  And it is interesting the “commentators” description of the room during the performance.

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