Canvas of Silence

Canvas of Silence


A heavy snowfall disappears into the sea.

What silence!

~ Folk Zen Saying


If you desire a larger-than-life Golden Age pianism, it’s generally best to build from top-to-bottom.  That is, establish your ff and fff and construct downwards from there to pp and ppp.  Always start from exaggeration and gradually minimize until you arrive at your interpretation.

But there’s a real beauty in building up sound from silence.  Silence is your canvas, and in the modern world, it’s ever harder to come by.  Even sleep is often covered by the sound of radio or television.  Re-establishing sensitivity to non-sound for some can be a long process.

When you feel tired or your ears have taken in too many loud sounds, your perception of piano becomes distorted.  You imagine you’re playing from p to f, but you’re actually playing from f to fff, and you wonder why you have the acute sensation of forcing the sound…

Stop.  Take some deep breaths.  Let your ears clear, your heart calm, and your arms relax.  After a minute or two passes, begin playing again, but imagine painting sound onto a canvas of silence.  You’ll notice shortly that your range is again enormous and that you’re enjoying what you’re playing {the subject of the following Essay}.


Within each of us there is a silence, a silence as vast as the universe.

And when we experience that silence, we remember who we are.

~ Gunilla Norris


When I was about twelve, I remember playing Chopin’s “Aeolian Harp” Etude in a masterclass for a visiting concert pianist.  Its difficulty lies in playing very quickly and softly at the same time.  The pianos and pianissimos were all a bit on the mf side, so he pointed out that I had to play softer.  Confident and determined, I slightly raised my shoulders, tightened my forearms, and played as softly as I could.  Just as loud as before, only more espressivo… 

Flustered, he paused for a moment, then said, Try imagining playing just a little louder than silence.

Silence is a state of listening relaxation.  Adding soft sounds to silence feels like gently dipping into a warm pool of water.

I relaxed and slowly slipped into the first notes.  The ah’s in the auditorium confirmed that I had obtained an effortless pp.


To the mind that is still,

the entire universe surrenders.

- Lao-Tzu