When a Voice is Silenced

I decided to go the orchestra last night rather than watching the Grammy Awards.  Like everyone else, I was deeply saddened by the death of Whitney Houston.  She had been so beautiful and gifted — and her decline beyond painful to observe.  I didn’t think I could take watching what would inevitably be performances in a room filled in memoriam.  To be truthful, I didn’t want to watch it by myself at home alone.  I wanted to be around people.

What was I thinking?

For years I’ve wondered why it’s always me who winds-up sitting next to the chatterbox in the theater?  As the dumbing-down of civilization progresses, more and more people seem blithely unaware when watching a film or live performance, that they are NOT in their own living-rooms in front of the TV set.  Generally I react with a benign but unmistakable glare in the direction of the noisy offender.  Next I try a gentle “shhhh” which progresses to the word “hush” until everyone is telling everyone to shut-up and eventually I get-up, go to the management, and have the offender removed from the theater.  I’m brutal that way.  By that time my theater experience is ruined and the moment is gone.  Sensible people don’t come to a theater to hear some stranger’s gossip update with the orchestra providing Prokofiev as a background soundtrack.  It’s a pretty simple concept: Keep quiet and sit still when you’re in the theater.  Is that so difficult to grasp?

Invariably there are folks who forget to turn-off their cellphones in spite of the opening announcements and THEN with indifference take incoming phone calls all the same.  Even worse are people who’ve turned-off their ring-tones but still think it’s acceptable to endlessly send and receive text messages.  Your eye is pulled to a light source other than what’s on the stage or screen, and again the moment is lost due to distraction.

I no longer play the piano – it’s been so many years and broken fingers ago that I wouldn’t know where to begin – but when a musician sits down in front of a piano I am there to hear the performance.  Be it strings, wind-instruments or the human voice – we owe the person on stage our undivided attention.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a dance troupe or a stage play, we are obliged to grant the performers and the people around us our silence until the artists are finished.  Then, and only then, is it our turn to make noise — hopefully applause.

We live in what’s increasingly becoming a rude and discordant world.  And with that thought in mind, it never ceases to amaze me how an orchestra or a small quartet can put aside all human differences and fill the air with the sound of beauty.  It’s the rare witnessing of people working together in harmony for a common purpose.  Sometimes the musical magic builds to a crescendo that lasts only a moment — but when it reaches that point it moves the heart — and nothing touches more deeply.  If I need to vent tears caught within my heart, music is my answer.  I highly recommend Samuel Barber’s ‘Adagio for Strings’ for a good all-purpose cry.

I left the orchestra last night and got home just in time to switch-on the TV and witness Jennifer Hudson give an astonishing performance filled with grace and respect for the late Whitney Houston.  To me, the primary appeal of the ballad ‘I Will Always Love You’ is the moment when the melody modulates into another key signature — it’s that moment when the heart strings are touched.  I have tremendous admiration for Ms. Hudson’s performance in accomplishing a tribute void of imitation and without the vanity of making the song her own.  And by doing-so truly earned the right to claim a piece of that song forever.  I wondered how she held herself together with the layers of her own recent personal loss while honoring the passing of a mentor?  Ms. Hudson lifted her arms in a gentle gesture to the audience to quell the sound of their appreciation and astonishment at her accomplished a cappella…  As the piano then joined her, Ms Hudson was telling a room full of people saddened by loss — everyone pulling for her to succeed — to merely listen and allow her to perform.  And perform she did, lending respect to a memory that deserved our silence and undivided attention.

The world does feel a little emptier when we loose a talent like Whitney Houston — and at once we are richer for remembering who and what we have known, appreciated and lost.  Music itself is fleeting, evaporating into the air we breathe.  The world has a way of renewing itself with new artists who come along while others pass.  Death and renewal are the only constants in life.  Memories remain and new hopes are born within other young talent.  It brings to mind a poem I wrote for a struggling young musician…


The Hopeful Musician

The musician composes music playing solely in his ear,

Beating tempo for an orchestra that isn’t really there.

Striking chords on a guitar made from the finest, thinnest air,

He conducts with a chopstick, if you listen you will hear.


I Will Always Love You – Jennifer Hudson’s tribute to Whitney Houston


9 thoughts on “When a Voice is Silenced

  1. Bill, you never cease to amaze me with your incredible talent as a writer – among all your other incredible talents. That was a most beautiful piece. And the poem served as the perfect ending. That you are not widely published is, no doubt, due to the very same “dumbing down” of America that you lament. I love & admire you, my brother.

    • By the way, I love you too.

      I don’t know what made me write this. Generally speaking I’m annoyed by media feeding frenzies about the lives of celebrities, but she had been at one time such a beautiful and uplifting performer – I guess for some reason I was touched.

      • What an time! Thank you Whitney and Phil for allowing me to be part of your wdeidng adventure! When I photograph wdeidngs, I’m capturing memories about and for others. But I’m also creating my own memories of kind and creative people and the beautiful places at which I’m so lucky to work. You can view more photos from La Jolla on my personal blog.

    • If people actlauly listened to how Whitney sounded most of the tour especially toward the end she actlauly sung even better than this. Funny how people are consumed by a few tabloid headlines and take a few bad notes out of context. Whitney never left, some of her fans did, but they are returning to honour the one true legend left, our Nippy

      • I loved Whitney, and I hope her memory is focused more on her accomplishments than her tragic end. Her demise can serve as a ‘teachable moment’ but her life was more than that. Anyone who can get my breath away singing the Star Spangled Banner was more that a mere pop star. When her performance in ‘Sparkle’ is released, I hope we’re left with a high note to counter the sadness.

    • I hated that they turned her mic down and she did not sound bad or crack torhugh the whole performance. I sat directly in front of my 60 TV listened hard. Always will be a Whitney fan and im glad she is back!!!!

  2. I have spent my whole life lamenting the dumbing down of not just America, but the world as I watch common sense become uncommon, common courtesy become denigrated and common good fall to personal gain.
    I too, seem often too near the boob who won’t shut up at a concert, movie or play, or have the glaring light of texting distracting my enjoyment. I would think that if common courtesy to your fellow patrons and the artists onstage could not quiet you, then the fact that you paid good money to see what is on stage should prompt you not to waste that money by doing the conversations and texting that you could have done OUTSIDE for free, outside, where they belong. Not being anywhere near as peaceable as you, Beihl, I have come close to violence over someone at a concert, I’d progressed passed “shhh” and “hush” to “Can you let us hear the concert rather than your cell phone conversation?” He called me things I’d not repeat in my mother’s earshot, but did keep his cell phone put away for most of the rest of the event. (FYI he was making OUTGOING calls, not responding to inbound ones)
    Things like this and over a decade in customer service have left me bitter and antipathetic towards human existence. I pretty much take the opinion that, unless they have shown signs of intelligence, then they are basically stealing air from my family. And so few do show signs of cogent thought. (Obviously, none in the GOP have reached that benchmark)
    I am glad that, at least, you were able to appreciate Ms. Hudson’s performance in the Grammy’s. I don’t watch that much TV, generally sticking to Discovery, History and the Food channels, so I missed it.
    Sadly, Whitney’s talent had left some time back, victim of her drug abuse. The train wreck we try to force celebrities lives to be by picking them apart is horrendous. What the heck is wrong with our culture? *sigh*

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