Written by Laura Forster.
Composer, Musician and Music Facilitator.
This might seem like a strange thing to write about considering how much I love music, but today I’ve been thinking about silence. My days are filled with the sounds of noisy children and busy family life but there are these moments, perhaps when I’m brushing my teeth in the evening or going for a walk once the kids are in bed when it’s just so quiet! I must admit that I’m really enjoying these peaceful moments.
It has got me thinking about the way that music can ironically silence a room.
You can be in a noisy, lively room full of toddlers and a simple strum of a chord or tap on a handpan can silence the room. It’s amazing how children’s curiosity can be sparked by the simplest of sounds which might stand out as unusual or something new to their ears.
There are particular songs that seem to have that effect, especially with small children. I remember the instant change of atmosphere when ‘Sleeping Bunnies’ was sung in playgroups I’d take my eldest daughter to when she was tiny. Suddenly a loud buzzing room would be silenced as children rushed to lie down and pretend to be asleep, ready for the bunnies to wake and start hopping!
In this time of lockdown, I wonder what our children are hearing in quieter spaces without the voices and laughter of 30 other children in a classroom. Schools are sometimes focussed places of quiet learning but they’re also hugely vibrant incredibly loud places at points. My youngest keeps asking me ‘what’s that noise mummy?’ And I wonder whether it’s the time she has at home or the quieter surroundings that are giving her the opportunity to listen and notice these sounds more.
There’s even been research about cities and towns having a significantly lower ‘hum’ and background noise to them in this time when many people are staying at home. It’s almost like we can hear with more clarity, with sounds suddenly clearer against an underlying quiet.
As a musician, I love to listen to music. I love to be inspired by songs or sounds and to use music to create an atmosphere, whether that’s to dance around the lounge to or create a calm space to be still in. But I also love silence. Or at least ‘almost silence’. At the moment perhaps there’s a car engine humming, a clock ticking or a bird singing but it’s pretty close.
I wonder whether we need to create more silence for our children. Times when they can be the sound-makers, whether it’s the clatter of Lego blocks being explored, the space to talk or sing to themselves or perhaps the crunch of gravel underfoot as they play outdoors. Music can be inspiring and uplifting but the sounds of day to day life, especially those created by our children can be just as musical.
So here’s a couple of little challenges that you might like to play around with at home…Can you create a really quiet space even for a few minutes each day for your child to be the ‘sound-maker’.
Can you focus on the sounds they make, and after a time of uninterruption, encourage them to notice the noises they are making. Then can you introduce a few household objects that could be used the make sounds? (Or better still, encourage your children to find something themselves) What unexpected objects could be used?
Can you go outside or open a window, listen quietly and encourage your children to notice what sounds you hear that you might not normally?
Can you perhaps hear the sounds of a bird flapping their wings?
For some people, especially our amazing key workers and NHS staff, this might be a time that’s far from quiet and peaceful. So a huge thank you for all you are doing in this challenging time. For those of us who are lucky enough to have these opportunities for quiet, perhaps we should try to savour them and encourage our children to enjoy them as well.