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The silent symphony

| Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Renee Yaseen I The Observer

Four-hundred-fifty-seven days.

This number might not mean anything to you at first, but it hit me with an unexpected force this weekend. From this past Sunday, 457 is the number of days left in college for the class of 2021. Now I know what you must be thinking. Now is not the time for sentimentality. But this number introduced some discordant melodies into my internal symphony, and I cannot stop thinking about it.

Last year, I wrote a column that questioned why life did not have a soundtrack to accompany it, why we are condemned to the “music” of normality and ordinary life. 

Now that I am a junior and have passed the halfway mark for my time in college, it is fascinating to witness how the music has changed for me, the ways that my symphony has changed in extensive and amazing ways since the first step I took on campus, even since I wrote that column. It may seem like a banal realization to you, but I am realizing more and more that life does not create the internal symphony inside us, so much as it changes the instruments that dominate and blend with the others.

Part of college is learning how to create the music instead of listening for it. 

One of the things that I do, sometimes subconsciously and sometimes not, is listen to music that matches the noise in my head. For me, music is far more than the conglomeration of notes in aesthetically appealing sequences. When I find the “right” song that perfectly harmonizes with my internal symphony, I feel the most clarity. I can do anything, cross any ocean, scale any mountain. Imagine Apple’s surprise when I tell you that the perfect noise cancellation for yourself is that one song you save when you need to run harder at the gym, when you want to turn inward and reflect. Sometimes I find this to be rainy jazz, other times it is electronic music — but it has always been true that when life becomes choppy, music can be the lifeboat for me.

But what happens when the symphony becomes silent and you can hear your own footsteps echoing back at you in an empty concert hall? It is undeniably true that every single one of us is the director of an internal symphony that only we can hear. But it is also true that it is undeniably hard to find this music, especially when the cacophony of daily life becomes louder than the most energetic song by Metallica can keep pace with. Navigating the disparate noise of school, the trajectory towards finding a job and the realization that college will end is one thing when you can find the perfect song that harmonizes with this effort. In these moments, it is easy to fall on music or any other outlet you have to match and cancel the noise inside yourself. Simply turn on Twenty-One Pilots or Imagine Dragons and let Dan Reynolds scream this noise into the recesses of your mind. It is far easier to hear the external symphony than the internal one. But what happens, and how does one navigate the noise, when the instruments inside your concert hall have gone silent?

I confess that I do not have an answer, and that was part of the motivation for writing this column. I am writing this for you just as much as I am writing it for me. I have 457 days left (a few less than that now), and the dissonance of normal life is deafening to me. The one thing that I can say is that it is important to be silent sometimes and listen for the telltale woodwind, percussion, string and bass that is persistently there, no matter how quiet. One of the ways that I did this during my freshman year was to go and sit at the Grotto, completely silent and listen.

The purest music is created in the darkness of the concert hall, when you are the only one on the stage. It is tempting to turn on music and let it flood over you, and even now I listen to music as I write this column. Sometimes this music harmonizes with the silent symphony, sometimes it does not. When life is difficult and you find yourself at danger of capsizing, find your symphony. Sometimes the melody will seem discordant and unharmonious, and sometimes it will seem as if you cannot hear the symphony at all. But it is there.

When that fateful moment comes 457 days from now when we graduate, there will be a song playing around you and me. I may not be able to hear your song, nor will you be able to hear mine, but they will be our song and our symphony, and nobody can take that away from us.

Gabriel Niforatos is a junior majoring in political science with minors in the Hesburgh Program in Public Service and theology. He is passionate about giving a voice to the disenfranchised and writing is the muse he is persistently chasing. He can be found at [email protected] or @g_niforatos on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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