Toronto Chamber Choir Blog
September 12, 2020
Author: Tracy Stuchbery
The Great Pause
The other day, while sitting at my piano sight-reading some music, I came across a sonata by C.P.E. Bach that I found particularly engaging. The piece is written in a jaunty Allegro di molto 3/4 time and begins in sunny C major. It trips happily along with eighth and sixteenth notes until at measure 26 a fermata holds us in place atop a sparkling D major chord, the melody pauses to look around and then tumbles down for two measures and lands in a full measure of…nothing!
For 3 whole beats!
What is going on? I think to myself. I was having such a good time! This melody was so delightful, and I was enjoying the forward momentum and now, you land me in a vast measure of…NOTHING?!?! Confused, I look ahead to the next measure without counting the rests and struggle to pick up the momentum, which eventually carries me to a very satisfying cadence in G major. Wait. G major. How did I get here? I was in C at the start of all this. I return to that measure of silence and wonder what to make of it. How to hold that silence, what to do with that silence. Is there a way I can prepare in the preceding measures for this silence now that I know it is coming? How do I get out of the silence? If I spend too much time there, I begin to feel stuck. There is a beginning, middle, and end to these three beats of silence. The beginning is resonating with the abrupt ending of the notes in the previous measure, the middle is looking around wondering what just happened, and the end is energizing the momentum to pick up and move into the notes of the next measure. That is a lot to process in three beats. Can I simply be present to the movement of this silence, I wonder? Can I allow it to unfold, trusting that I will feel the impulse needed to pick up the music in the downbeat of the next measure, like a swimmer knowing instinctively when to begin kicking after they dive into the water?
It occurred to me that the experience I was having with this music could be a metaphor for life right now amid this COVID pandemic. We have all been thrown into a measure of silence that most of us did not anticipate, and we cannot yet see clearly when or how the music will pick up again (when to start kicking). On Wednesday, March 11, the TCC was literally at the end of a measure of music when the rehearsal for the Rosenmüller@400 concert ended. Guest musicians had flown in from as far away as Switzerland for this enchanting program. We went home humming the melodies, our hearts and bodies resonating with the warmth and beauty of our music making, and joyfully anticipating the performance on Saturday. By Friday our concert was cancelled. If you are anything like me, you watched with growing concern and grief as one by one concerts, schools, and businesses were shut down, and the number of COVID cases and related deaths grew.
I have heard this time in history being called “The Great Pause” by some. When I first heard this, something shifted in me, and what arose was gratitude. Isn’t this a whole lot better than living during “The Great War” or “The Great Depression”? I felt a sense of relief that all the rushing, striving, and achieving that makes up most of our days was being put on hold. “Stay home!” our politicians and health experts were saying. This relief soon gave way to anxiety, and here I remain, six months later, oscillating between the two.
Times of silence are both welcomed and despised. They are liminal spaces, ambiguous and disorienting, like that measure of rest in the sonata. I invite you to pull out one of your favourite pieces of music to sing, play, or listen to and notice the silences. The pauses. The rests. The space between the notes. Notice how you experience them in your body. Notice how the silence informs the direction and quality of the notes on either side. This is fertile ground. Do not rush through it.
When the music picks up again, no doubt it will be in another key. One that we could not have imagined or dreamed of without having spent time in the silence of this great pause.
Tracy Stuchbery sings soprano with the TCC. She is a musician, pianist, teacher, choral director, mother, grandmother, wife, and friend. She currently resides in Etobicoke where she is the music director for St. Philip’s Anglican Church, and teaches piano.