“You lot are making so much noise, I can’t even hear myself think! Shush!”

The redheaded lady who raised me had had all of the chatter, all of the bickering, all of the bragging she could stand for one day.  Her voice was raised above the hullabaloo of the five children in the house and the silence that ensued was deafening–in a strange sort of way.  It was only a momentary respite, but in that short time period, I remember thinking about the strange words she has just uttered.

“…I can’t even hear myself think!”

What does that mean?  Thoughts were inside your head.  How could anything from outside drown out thoughts?

Moving a few years past the redheaded lady’s cry for mercy, I hear the voice of another person of influence in my life.  The silver-haired man stood in front of our little class of five or six college-aged students.  We all thought that we wanted to learn the skill of tuning and maintaining the piano.  Expecting to begin with learning how to manipulate the tuning hammer on the strings, an obvious step in learning to tune, we were instead listening to a lecture as the diminutive man spoke of the theory of sound.

“What is the most important element in making music with the piano?” he began.  “The strings?  The soundboard?  Perhaps, the hammers?”

With a mischievous little grin, he gave the answer in the form of a riddle.  It was one which scientists (and philosophers, for that matter) have been asking for centuries.

“If a tree falls in the forest, and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?”

Oh!  I knew this!  Raising my hand, I blurted out, “Of course it does!”  In that instant, I was caught in his trap.  He wasted no time in springing it, either.

“Wrong!  Sound occurs only when there is both a transmitter (in this case, the tree falling) and a receiver (the missing person to hear it). It is a scientific fact.”

Of course, I argued.  I still do.  But, there was no retreat in the teacher.  Soon the whole class was offering individual opinions.  The noise level continued to rise, until he quieted us down.

“The point I want to make is that music only occurs when there is an instrument from which the tone emanates and a person or persons to hear said music. Transmitter–receiver; both necessary and important parts of the music.”

I didn’t go on to be a piano technician.  I hate tuning pianos.  The drudgery I experienced when sitting at the keyboard plinking at fourths and thirds, listening to the beats in the tones and manipulating the tuning hammer, cannot be overstated.  I would never be a piano tuner.

That doesn’t mean that I didn’t understand what the teacher, my father-in-law, was driving at, though.

And now, we speed past a number of years to the night I sat in an auditorium listening to an accomplished concert pianist as he filled the atmosphere of the room with beautiful music.  The system was working.  The transmitter (pianist with piano) was fulfilling its function admirably and the receiver (audience) had no complaints.

Suddenly, something went very wrong.  A moment before, the arpeggios and the chords had been well behaved and organized, but now they were all askew.  Where crisp notes had flowed in a pleasant manner from the instrument previously, now garbled and roaring conglomerations of tones blasted the eardrums of those listening.  The roaring grew louder by the second. Momentarily, I looked at the pianist, assuming that he had forgotten his music, perhaps shifting his hands up on the keyboard a half-step instead of continuing in the correct position.  In that moment, though, the realization of what had happened became clear.

The pianist was doing everything right; it was the piano which was at fault.  The dampers–those pieces of felt which silence each vibrating string when its part is ended, to await the next time the artist presses a key and causes the hammer to strike that string once more–the dampers weren’t functioning.  All akimbo, they were hung up above all the strings.  Every string on the piano was free to vibrate, without constraint.  The result was musical pandemonium.

Tonight, as I remember that hideous din, my mind is drawn back to the five children and their suffering mother.  I wonder if malfunctioning dampers played a part in that situation, too.

I certainly don’t want to afflict anyone with a sophomoric explanation of the need for restraint in our communication.  It is likely to be all too evident as we look at the world in which we live.

The din is increasing, the unrestricted voices beginning to roar.  Some days, the cacophony is so loud I despair of it ever returning to a level at which any sense can be made of it at all.

All of which makes me realize that we seem to have come full circle tonight.

Last week, this aging grandfather sat in the living room at his own home, surrounded by the noise of four young children at play.  I was almost astounded to hear the words, seemingly called forth from my mouth without any intent on my part.

“You guys are making so much noise, I can’t hear myself think!  Shush!”

I can hear the red-headed lady chuckling from here.

Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the pipe or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes?
(I Corinthians 14:7 ~ NIV)

We have entered an era vibrating with the din of small voices.
(Matt Drudge ~ American political commentator/author)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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