Tuesday, September 20, 2011


On September 9-10, Serafin String Quartet held “quartet camp” at the University of Delaware, which was a series of seminars and playing exercises for quartet training. Our new violist, Molly Carr, talked about some of the things she does to prepare for a quartet rehearsal. One of the first things she mentioned was circling all of the tutti rests. I thought this was a fantastic exercise and really got me thinking about the power of silence.

All silence is not the same. The silence after a dissonant forte chord is going to be very different from the silence at the end of a piano phrase in Mozart. One of the most powerful silences I ever heard was with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the end of Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6. That moment of complete stillness and awe in a hall filled with 2,000 people is something that can never be reproduced on a CD.  And the silence before a piece begins is equally important, and can also vary tremendously. 

One of the reasons silence is so powerful is it is something both the audience and the performers participate in equally. The performers have to set up the silence well, but the audience has to participate in it fully for it to be truly effective. Silence is always the time that I know if the audience is “with” me or not.

So the next time you are performing a piece, don’t just think about the notes. Think about those moments of silence which are so incredibly powerful.

-Tim Schwarz