It was a byword, a continuing emphasis . . . maybe even an obsession. But after one rehearsal with Chip Stam, you knew that “silence on the rests” was important to him in the shaping of musical expression and textual clarity. We are now experiencing the silence of Chip’s rest, but that phrase remains in my memory. And I am discovering there are some lessons to learn from those four words, lessons with meaning far beyond the rehearsal room or choir loft.
From a musical standpoint, we understand the significance of silence. The silence of a concert hall or sanctuary is the blank canvas upon which musicians paint the light and color of their art. The interplay of sound and silence provides shape and texture, meaning and emotion, tension and release. But whether the silence is total or simply a rest in a musical line, it above all creates a sense of anticipation. Is there any moment more fraught with joy and terror than that instant when the baton is raised or the fingers poised or the breath taken in, and the silence is about to be broken?
So it is with the silence of a friend whose voice and laughter are now absent to us. That thundering silence calls us to listen and look for a different day, a different place, a different quality of life. With joy and terror we face mortality, and we long to fill the silence of the unknown with songs of faith and assurance. We ache to sing in the present tense: “there is no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither is there any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” We live in anticipation, and the silence prepares us for that which “eye has not seen, nor ear heard.”
Yet for silence to begin, something must end. When the choir in rehearsal bungled a release, Chip often uttered a mock cry of pain. I think imprecision wounded him. He was reminding us what we all knew: that the ending of notes and phrases was as important as the beginning or sustaining of notes and phrases. Precision, accuracy, intentionality–these were the watchwords for sound and rhythm.
The metaphor is obvious. Purpose, authenticity, intentionality–these are the watchwords for living well in Christ. But ending well, ending with purpose, authenticity, direction–this is the challenge. It is a gift to all who come behind us. It is a gift that Chip gave to us with grace and joy. He taught us how to end well.
And the last lesson is this: Chip’s passion for accuracy was a reflection of his respect for the composer’s intent. He honored what the creator desired for his creation. He respected the timing that the creator designed. He taught us to do the same, knowing we could not just follow our own various inclinations or opinions in regard to the length of notes.
My inclination is that Chip should still be with us. My opinion is that he died too soon. The finger snapped too early, the phrase was not yet complete, the musical idea seems half-formed.
Yet we must respect the design of the Creator. We defer to His timing. We trust that His musicianship transcends our own, that He weaves a tapestry of sound that is beyond our understanding.
This is what Chip taught us.
A little about music.
A lot about life.
And thanks to him, we are learning to treasure the silence on the rests.