About Black Music History

Matthew Williams MA, PGCE, LLB is a PhD research student at the University of Bristol. He began this initiative in February 2017 in order to aid his studies. It has since blossomed with an online following on Instagram of over 15,000 followers. He continues to document on social media when he is not studying or working.

 

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blackmusichistory@outlook.com

Based in UK

Is this a Selah moment?

March 23, 2020

 

 

 

 

 

"It's not the notes you play, it's the notes you don't play."


Miles Davis

 

I know some were expecting broader perspectives on secular music as that topic was next in my series. That will come soon but, we have all been affected by the current crisis and it would be odd not to mention this in the scheme of these short blog posts. I wanted to offer some helpful thoughts from a musical standpoint during this enforced pause.

 

In musical notation systems, the ‘rest’ and the ‘pause’ are two instructions that carry profound symbolic meaning for our lives. 

A pause is a sign indicating that the note, chord or rest over which it appears is to be prolonged at the performer's discretion. A rest indicates the momentary absence of sound. The rest and the pause are two of the most important and enchanting tools in the musicians’ arsenal.

As the trumpeter Miles Davis said, "It's not the notes you play, it's the notes you don't play."

 

Long before these symbols were developed, the ancient Hebrew songs, such as the Psalms were littered with the instruction, ‘Selah’. Scholars believe that this was an instruction for an intermission to "pause and calmly think". These Selah moments may come at any point in the song. Perhaps during a crisis or conversely moment of profound joy. Either way, the instruction is to pause. 

 

We are often too quick to fill the silence with more noise and more activity. Before we rush into the next move, perhaps this is a moment to learn to be o.k. with the direction to pause. This will not be forever. The rhythm of life will likely begin again, although it may sound different, we may be more grateful for its steady and reassuring pulse. 

 

Pauses and rests in music can be spoiled if they are not observed correctly, thus destroying the overall impact of the piece or indeed, peace.

The ancient Hebrews knew something that we could all learn from: our lives are a symphony to a far greater purpose than we realise, if we are unable to observe the pause and reflect - we will spoil the art. 

 

Thinking of all those adversely affected during this time.

 

Selah.

 

Matthew

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Is this a Selah moment?

March 23, 2020

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