The Magical Sound Of Silence

The author found a live classical music concert well worth the extra effort. Jane Esaki photo

The author found a live classical music concert well worth the extra effort. Jane Esaki photo

Me? Attend a classical concert and sit still for two whole hours?

It’s not that I don’t like classical music. In fact, I have been transfixed by that genre ever since I was a child listening to a tiny transistor radio. Even to the uncultivated ear, this music can be at once exciting, soothing and transporting.

But I am accustomed to enjoying it via the airwaves, not at a live concert. In an auditorium, one can’t relax in a T-shirt, get up anytime to go grab a cup of tea, munch noisily on snacks, text on the cell phone or doze off. No, I would be required to wear my best, be considerate and give my fullest attention. So when I was invited to a concert recently, I seriously questioned whether I could survive it.

Upon entering the auditorium, it’s refreshing to see a diverse group: young musical proteges, aspiring artists, business owners, active community members and seasoned connoisseurs of fine music. There are even common people like me, my house painter and a surfer.

The stage is austere, with only the bare necessities: a grand piano fronted by two chairs and music stands.

The program flier is replete with the works of Norgard, Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky. My limited knowledge is that they are great Danish, German and Russian composers.

Two begowned women — a violinist and a cellist — take their seats, while a casually attired pianist stands between them to chat with the audience. He is soft-spoken yet loud and clear in the quietude, self-deprecating with a sense of humor, and kind and sincere in his demeanor. He makes us feel comfortable.

But how do I get comfortable with such powerful music? I try to engage without being distracted by their animated expressions and impressive sounds. Then a strange thing happens. At the conclusion of a complex and moving composition, the pianist purposefully holds his hands frozen above the keys and the violinist and cellist keep their bows aloft, causing the audience to hold back their final applause for a few seconds. I don’t get the extended silence. I don’t hear or feel anything.

After intermission, the enormity of their talents hits home as I close my eyes and notice how the sounds all meld together splendidly in such perfect harmony. Only three of them can create all of that? It’s mind boggling! However, once again after another moving piece, I am perplexed by the extended silence before clapping.

At the end of the program, a very enthusiastic crowd offers rousing standing ovations, the performers are given lei and they exit. They return, take off their lei and begin an encore performance, one that I will never forget. Eyes closed, it transports me to a magical realm like never before and I lose track of time. When I realize it is over, I open my eyes.

But wait, it’s not over.

I hear a delicate, heavenly note hanging in the stillness. At the same time, I notice the trio’s hands are held aloft. For a few long seconds, I savor that lingering sound. Just as it stops, the three musicians lay down their hands. I take a deep breath. Wow, that was beautiful! That is what was in the extended silence that I couldn’t hear before … and now I can!

Forget the radio. To be so transformed, I guess I just had to have been there, live.