Defining the Thunder

As I look over this before posting it, I am a bit displeased with the chunkiness of it, but choppy paragraphs just didn't seem appropriate for some reason. If you gut it out nonetheless, we'll be friends forever. Thanks for coming by, and I hope your Monday is spectacular! It's going to sound like I'm talking about music (which, let's be honest here, is nothing new), but it is going to be different, most likely, than you are used to thinking about it. Because "music," like poetry or art, has more to do than simply describe tonic qualities perceived by the ears as either harsh or soothing or catchy (just like "poetry" has more to do than describe characters arranged on a page in a certain format and "art" has more to do than describe paints and metals and film and whatever other physical things are associated with them).

Music must be something more than just sound, because there is something deeper than sound going on. Allow me to give you a hands-on example. Watch and listen to this without distractions around you and through headphones if possible (the quality is not magnificent, but it works surprisingly well for this sort of vocal piece) and let me know if you find yourself holding your breath at 1:39, when the frantic rhythm has stopped and the altos begin their staggered breathing suspension of the single note lofting above everything else. The thin wire which separates the sound from silence. Tell me if you settle a little more easily into your chair with the introduction of the melody at 2:20 and if you feel the tension in your chest while the chord structure changes when they sing "turn darkness into light." The punch in the face that line makes when separated by the first true break in sound. The petrichoric, post-thunderstorm resolution of the series of cadences that close it.

It's just a vocal piece, of course, but it illustrates things that music attempts to emphasize. Cadence, rhythm, dynamics, the whole lot of which is present in places that are not musical. A great number of art teachers and enthusiasts are going to tell you that their craft is not simply something to listen to with your ears or read with your eyes or touch with your hands, but something that resonates with us as human beings because it transforms abstract experience into concrete structure. Tension is something you feel in your gut; color and sound and clay have nothing to do with it. But artists have been finding ways of evoking that same feeling that you get when trying to decide between two equally wonderful or terrible things with notes and drum beats and paint brushes for centuries.

Think of a thunderstorm and tell me that God's not the most perfect musician. He knows when to make it thunder, crashing the dissonance down on our ears to provide a contrast for the rhythmic, intricate rainfall. Listen to the morning and tell me it's not the most perfect song ever composed. A quiet symphony of minimalistic beauty attacks us not with sound, but with lack of sound. A squirrel burrows into a tree over here, and the weight shifts under the legs of your chair as the house sighs, taking in the complexity of what is happening. It is immensely more difficult to compose nothing than it is to compose thunder, and God has demonstrated that not only is it effortless for Him, it's natural. Tell me it's not beautiful.

I'll tell you why I'm writing this. First of all, I'm tired of heady things like this being talked about without practical meaning. I've come to accept that though I often live in my head, I exist in a world that is pretty real, the very realness of which often negates overly dramatic philosophical debates. The practical bit is coming up in a second, I promise. Secondly, because I was directed to this article, titled "The Joy of Quiet" by Pico Iyer, by a friend. I implore you to read it, because it is marvelous. He talks about how once upon a time we celebrated all of the gadgets and technological advances we have acquired for the sole purpose of being constantly, 100% of the time, connected to everything. We have devices to listen to music wherever we go. We can talk to whoever we want whenever we want to. We can access the internet from our pockets. Mr. Iyer insists, and I agree, that this is dangerous to us as creative beings.

For how can there be music without dynamics, without rest, without swells, without mindfulness of the space around the "stuff?" Life is more than "go." Sometimes it's "just stop for a second." We are humans and life is art and we were created by an Artist.

The practical bit: read the above mentioned article and tell me you're not inspired to go without the connectivity for one day a week at least. It will be incredibly difficult to do, because it is nearly impossible to function in our jobs and activities without the things we've built our lives around. Make it Sunday, like I am going to do. I'm not saying to retreat into the woods and ignore everybody in your life for one day (as lovely as that would be sometimes), I'm saying leave Facebook alone for one 24 hour period of time. Keep the computer on sleep mode and read a book. Don't go buy coffee, stay home and make it. When you're driving, listen to the rhythm of your tires on the road, the click of your blinker, the swoosh of your windshield wipers. Turn your phone up and leave it in your room so that you are accessible but not attached to it at the hip.

For just one day, define the sound that is so infused in the busyness of your week by the silence of a day spent recovering from it. It will be our little experiment to see if we can define the thunder by the rain.

Hamilton Barber

The subject of this page is an introverted writer/musician/lunatic from Chattanooga, TN who dabbles in lexical dexterity, unorthodox thoughts on prosperity, and being overwhelmingly undeserving of the privilege of waking up every day. He hopes that everybody who reads these words takes them to heart and leaps higher than he ever could. He reads, thinks, and speaks too much; he listens, works, and loves too little; and he says “I” entirely too often. The words on these pages are not his: they are the words that were given to him.