The space in-between
“I don’t know if the audience hears the silence in the music between the notes. But I do.”
In many ways, Maria Callas has been a strong model for me. This quote in particular comes from one of her interviews that I listened to years ago. I couldn’t find the exact quote, nor the original interview to source this article, but her voice still resonates in me: “Mais moi, je les entends”. She was talking about drama and the importance of authentic acting on stage. For her, there was a lot happening in the silence, and that could make the music, and the performance, special and magical. I remember that it struck me because I had never thought about this. Afterwards, I never listened to an opera the same way again.
The idea of silence between the notes followed me, not just in music, but on a daily basis. I paid more and more attention to the spaces in-between.
Getting back to opera, the singer learns to project her voice through breathing. To do so, she must improve and optimize her inhale to take as much air as possible, then manage her exhale to deliver a constant and strong flow that will feed the sound. For the sound to be free and rich, the breathing movement needs not only strength and control, but also flexibility. A key parameter of such flexibility is the ability to switch from inhale to exhale as fluidly as ebb and flow. If the singer stops her breathing pattern before exhaling, even for a millisecond, the sound will lose a lot of its quality and richness. The in-between is a secret space where magic happens…
Have you ever wondered what happens between the ebb and the flow of the ocean? I like to visualize the movement of the waves on the sand, and feel this moment where the ebb ends and the flow begins. When I see this in my mind’s eye, I feel whole. It’s what the present moment feels to me.
A lot of us often get stuck in the past. There’s nothing to feel guilty about as memories are part of our identity and growth. Yet, we sometimes cling to the experiences we’ve gone through, sharing them with our friends and loved ones, telling the same stories over and over. It’s tough to be in the present moment. It’s tough because it’s the edge between the known and the unknown. Every instant we get to live, we jump from the known to the unknown.
Rehashing the past can be reassuring, even if the past is difficult. At least it is known. Projecting ourselves in the future gives us the strength to move forward as we live on the permanent edge of the present moment. That moment, right now, is the space between the past and the future.
This past week, it’s been snowing a lot in New York. It’s filled my heart with joy. One reason I love snow so much is because it quiets everything. Snow, to me, is the physical materialization of present moment. It connects so gracefully the earth and the sky in a silent white coat. This silence is the silence between the notes of life. And what greater representation than the change of state of water to translate the connection between the past and the future. When a crystal of snow falls in the palm of my hand and becomes a round and tiny drop, I can feel my soul, together with the water, simply being here.
On the edge of life, we’re being and we’re becoming. The space between the sounds is a secret gate, opening up to a vaster world. Such world is not limited by the boundaries of physicality. Instead, it’s a place of infinite potentials.
I went back to listen to Maria Callas’ interviews yesterday, absorbing her deep wisdom through the simple stories she told. Like many, I’ve always been very touched by her singing. The mystery that her voice has still remains today. Maestro Francesco Sicilliani talks with great passion of the mystery of her voice in one of Callas’interviews. After diving into La Callas’past, as well as my own (from when I spent time learning from La Callas as much as I could), I listened to my favorite of her recordings: Pace, pace mio dio. The sound of her voice never fails to build up the goosebumps in my body until the climax of “Maledizione”, which shakes my soul. To me, part of the mystery of her voice is that her sound keeps me in the present moment. But it goes further than keeping me in the present moment, it builds up a moment of togetherness with the music and the silence, and with her, defying the barriers of linear time. It’s powerful because it makes me stay in the present moment for a good six minutes. A rare experience for a human being.
I’ll leave you to this for now: the space between the sounds, the space between the words, the space between the snowflakes, the space between the waves, the space between the breaths…
“To sing is an expression of your being, a being that is becoming.”- Maria Callas