We need a soundtrack in our lives.
Movies without music at vital points are boring. The swelling of the passionate music tells us that the characters are overcome with lust. The creepy, discordant music tells us that the killer, or the monster, is just around the dark, cobwebby corner. There is the triumphant music that reaches its crescendo when the hero defeats the villain. Moviemakers know, there must be music, so there are no dull bits where there is no conversation or dialogue, because it helps to heighten our feelings.
There are remarkable everyday sounds that we can take for granted, but should not — the laughter of babies, the rain on the roof or windows, the snoring of our dog lying on the couch, the quiet drone of insects on hot summer nights. Even the silences are rarely empty — falling snow has a muffled, faint crispy tinkling, at least to my ear. There is that sound that tires make on wet asphalt, and the shushing of a skier on a downhill run.
And there are the sounds of the city. New York City, for example, is a cacophony of traffic, of honking and yelling, of music spilling out of windows and vehicles — an urban symphony of noise. My cousin, Alla, who came to visit Denver from Brooklyn, had trouble falling asleep as it was just too quiet.
“Where are the trash trucks?” she demanded to know. She found the relative quiet of our little town difficult to get used to. To be fair, this was 40 years ago, and Denver was loads quieter then, and, at least, about one third of the size it is now.
I have been in the middle of a cotton field, in Southeast Missouri, at night. The insects would start out quietly, and build slowly, slowly up to a swelling wave of noise, then go silent for a moment, and start all over again. I have driven through Kansas, with the only sounds outside are those of wind jostling the car. I have stood in Mesa Verde, Colorado, and was overwhelmed with the near-absolute, almost deafening silence — no wind, no bugs calling to mates, no birdsong, no gurgling water — just nothing.
But the greatest “silence” I have ever heard was on a ship called The Fiordland Explorer, in New Zealand, in Doubtful Sound.
The captain asked everyone to come on top to the upper deck, to stand or sit still, then asked everyone not to talk or whisper or even take pictures for the next 10 minutes. He assured us that all that beauty was still going to be here to be photographed when we were done. Then he cut the engine, and the auxiliary battery power, and we sat or stood, in silence. All I could hear the gentle lapping of the water on the sides of the ship, the call of the birds, and my breath. We were surrounded by dark green mountains that jutted straight out of the water, here for millions of years, populated by dinosaurs in their time, devoid of people then and now, the mountains that would be there long after we are all gone, and I cried. It was like meditation, like poultice for the soul, rejuvenating and reviving.
Whether it be music, or nature, or the 5 a.m. garbage truck, we all need a soundtrack in our lives.