Overheard at a rehearsal for 4’33”

Overheard at a rehearsal for 4’33”:

Oboist: …and over at measure 84, shall I take that full-measure rest right in line rhythmically with the previous and following measures, or do you suppose it would come off better with a bit of emphasis, maybe a bit of ritardo?

Conductor: Good question. I see… well, before that point, the score is building up energy, with soaring alternating arcs of silence, gradually going from not using the strings to the woodier instruments, but at the same time you have these absolutely soundless action punches in the support, the… er… the bass parts, and you’re kind of caught in the middle having to not play both as they come together there… and… yes, yes, I think you have a good idea. Quite perceptive! Ha ha, with all you talented musicians here, why they made me the conductor, I don’t know!

(laughter among whole group)

First Violinist: Because, Joe, you have a face made for having your back to the audience!

(more laughter)

Conductor: (tap, tap) Very funny, Maeve. Okay everyone, note what Linda suggests, we’ll go with a kind of ritardo in measure 84, just a little slow down, then resume the normal tempo. And… remember to watch me! Don’t miss that downbeat, because if we aren’t all together in doing nothing, right on the beat, the audience is going to get sore. Again.

Trombonist: Yeah, sounds great. Hey, I’ve got a smudge on my sheet music here, or.. a little tear in the page, in measure 115. I can’t tell what was written there. Is that a hushed D that I don’t play, or a D flat?

Tuba: D flat. I got the exact same part as you, but down an octave. But damn! I just realized something! I got my B flat tuba here, but I’m supposed to be playing my E flat, which is out in my van in the parking lot. Damn! DAMN!

Conductor: Chill, Harvey. Ah, that could be a problem. Could you transpose the key mentally as you go along?

Tuba: Hey, I’m a tuba player! How smart do you think I am?

(scattered laughter)

Conductor: Well, Harvey, don’t mind the instrument. This would be a serious problem with other pieces, but for this one, just finger the notes as if you had your E flat. Because…I’ll tell you a little secret… the audience isn’t going to notice!

Tuba: Okay, cool, I’ll do that. No problem.

Conductor: (tap, tap) Okay! Let’s play through the whole thing again, with all the changes discussed. And remember that quirky one-beat measure at the top of page four. I expect to hear exactly one beat of nothing there, between the restful quietude before and bold stillness following. (make big downstroke with baton, then holds still)

(faint sounds of an air conditioner, muffled outdoor traffic…)

(four and a half minutes later…)

Conductor (looking surprised, in a good way): Hey, nice! That was all right! You did great! Yes, fantastic! We’ll do fine at the concert. I suppose that’ll be all for today. Yes, let’s pack up. No more 4’33” for now. We don’t want to peak too soon. Unless anyone has any comments or suggestions?

Cowbell Specialist: Uh, yeah… so, maybe this piece could use more cowbell?


Is “Black” a Color? A Comment on 4’33”

Is music, which is normally made of sound waves, still music when the amplitudes of those waves are zero?

An odd thing my dad said, way back when I was a kid, about colors: black isn’t a color. All the other colors of paint, crayons, cloth, bird feathers were colors, but since black doesn’t reflect light (in a ideal limit), it isn’t a color. Only light has color.

Since then I’ve put plenty of thought into many things, and have concluded that Dad was nuts. Is zero degrees Farenheit not a temperature? Is the origin of a coordinate system not in the space measured by those coordinates? Does an account with a business cease to exist when, for a day, there is neither debt nor credit in it? Does Atheism count among the religions? Is silence a sound?

Yes, because you can’t reason about things without the minima and maxima, the null set and the superset of all subsets, a resting ground of all variables, an absence of all moveable pieces.

Discussion of Atheism should fit right in with any discussion of religion, not because there’s a definite culture or school of thought Atheism with the general qualities of a Religion, but because we don’t want a hole in the space of thoughts and possibilities in which we roam in our discussions.

Crayola does indeed put a “black” crayon in their boxes bought by millions of parents for their kids.

So silence, when intended as music, must count as music, just so that it’s in the continuum of music which is short, music which is soft, music which has many long pauses and rests, songs about four and a half minutes long written in triple pianissimo all the way through.


This was originally a comment to a youtube video,¬†https://youtu.be/WTCVnKROlos, of a TED talk about John Cage’s famous work 4’33” where the musicians perform silence for four and a half minutes.