The Sound of Silence

Posted by on May 7, 2013 in life in klaskyville, writing | 2 comments

Once upon a time, I loved having noise around me as I worked.  (I grew up in the 1970s, and I attended a “school without walls”, where classrooms were open, and there was a huge amount of ambient noise.  I grew accustomed to working in that environment, although I understand that education is trending away from such things these days…)

I used to have a whole variety of writing music, with different mix-tapes (yes, this was a long time ago!) for different emotions.  I relied on some pre-recorded music, too — often, the soundtracks to movies.  I could still probably hum the entire soundtrack to Star Wars (A New Hope), if you just start me off with the first note!

Over time, though, I have found that I need to concentrate much more on my work.  I find all but the *most* familiar music distracting (and even that becomes unworkable for me, if there are lyrics.)  I have a small handful of fall-backs, about a half dozen albums that I listen to through my headphones, when I’m forced to work in an environment with a lot of background noise.

Today, I’m working at the public library.  As has happened the last few times I was here, a group took over two tables and started talking — in street-level volume — about their real estate project.  I shot them dirty looks and grumbled to myself and complained inside my head.

And then I remembered that there is a Quiet Study Room.  One used to have to get permission to use it, signing up in advance.  These days, though, it’s first come, first served, and there are spaces for about forty workers.

I’m in the Quiet Study Room now, and it is heaven.  The *only* noise is from people shifting in their chairs, the occasional turn of a page, the tap of fingers on a keyboard (and I’m the loudest at that, much to my embarrassment).  No talking.  No cell phones, even for a quick call.  No headphones with music bleeding.  Sheer, unadulterated silence.

How about you?  Are you a silence fetishist?  Or a background noise person?


  1. Funny. My experience exactly mirrors yours, including the “open” style elementary school in the 1970s. They combined grade levels, too, into something called “units”. I was one of the few third graders studying fourth- or fifth-grade material. It was great for learning, but I tended to get picked on by the older kids.

    Back when I was writing and going to school, my music of choice was classical, especially Russian Romanticists like Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. I have something like 24 Russian operas in my collection. Did I mention I like Russian?

    And then there’s John Williams the composer. I also knew the original Star Wars film score by heart. When trying to get to sleep, I didn’t need to count sheep. I just “played” Star Wars in my head. Worked like a charm every time.

    I also listened primarily to classical when I programmed at work, though by then I was branching out into more eclectic fare. My tastes in the 1990s ran from The Moody Blues to Ravi Shankar.

    Starting around 2000 or so, I stopped listening to music at all while working. As you’ve noted, it’s too distracting. And the writing went out the window too. Since classical doesn’t sound good on my car’s stereo, I’ve switched to Celtic. Especially bagpipes. But, every now and again I still get a hankering for Prince Igor or Boris Godunov or Tales of the Tsar Saltan.

    I especially need silence when I read, and always have. Ever since I was nine, I’ve made up my own musical soundtracks to all of my favorite stories, things like the Dragon Riders of Pern (especially Dragonsong/Dragonsinger) and Narnia. The music for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings has now been replaced by Howard Shore’s film score. For me, Shore rivals John Williams in the sheer scope and beauty of his music.

    Bob Shepard from Denver

    • Reading through your beautiful answer, I’m reminded that I really should add a disclaimer to *anything* I post about music — music is largely unimportant to me. I could go for long periods of time without listening to any. I *do* enjoy going to the symphony, and I *adore* a series of music appreciation classes that I take at the Smithsonian, but popular music is very much not part of my life. (My husband is the exact opposite — music is *vital* to his existence!)

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