Updated: Mar 9, 2021
monotony," from monotonos "of one and the same tone"
It started with us winding the windows down and blasting ABBA out of the car speakers on the way to school. (Sorry not sorry Sutton Coldfield.)
Then there was birdsong on the walk back from dropping the children off.
Back home it was the thud thud of the washing machine, the purr of the tumble dryer, the slam flap of the post dropping through the letterbox, the grinding of coffee beans in the machine, and then at some point, silence.
It’s been 9 weeks since I experienced silence like that.
I stretched, sang, meditated, emailed, phoned, cooked, and refilled the car’s screen wash tank.
Then school pick up and real conversations with real people talking about shared experiences. Solidarity. Friendship.
Children playing in the woods - laughter, voices, birdsong, and games.
Reproachful complaints of hunger and needing a wee.
More ABBA on the way home, slightly less loud this time.
The doorbell ringing with a celebratory fish and chip delivery from Grandma.
The evening symphony of plates, washing up, tooth brushing, reading, begging for just one more page.
Overtired, overwrought bedtime tears.
None of these individual sounds is unique to today. But the way they rise and fall to become a beautifully proportioned piece of music is startlingly new.
I once learned that an important fundamental in art is chiaroscuro - literally “light dark” - that the contrast between areas of light and dark heighten the impact of an image.
And of course it applies to music too. Who wants to listen to a constant high pitched whine, or an unchanging drone? We seek tonal variety in everything.
For 9 weeks, “Muuuum”, small people’s needs, meltdowns, resistance and emotions, have been a monotonous dirge like the irritating whine of a mosquito. There has been no light and shade. No joyful cranking up the car stereo to blast out music, and no silence.
When I was at university, I sang in a choir. I spent most rehearsals steeped in detail, noticing the notes I didn’t yet know, the loud bass opposite, the quiet soprano to my right, the conductor sweating behind his music stand, someone forgetting that we were doing the German Latin, the scatter of final consonants not together. One day I had to leave the rehearsal for a moment, and returned mid-song. I was suddenly struck dumb by the beauty of this mass of combined voices. It had taken a moment of distance to be able to experience it, before I went back to being a cog in the wheel again.
Today’s return to school enabled me to leave the room for a moment, and on returning, to hear the beauty.
Zoë is a singer, and founder and director of B'Opera Baby Opera in Birmingham. B'Opera is a partner on the Birmingham Early Years Music Consortium, shaping the way music is delivered to children age 0-5. She's also an ITM Alexander Technique teacher, spent 8 years as Choral Director and Singing Teacher at Trinity Laban Conservatoire Junior Department in London, and leads workshops and mentors vocal leaders for Welsh National Opera. You can find details about B'Opera's next online event, a Musical Treasure Hunt on 15th March, here.
Photo credit: Boba Jovanovic