A minute’s silence at the start of a concert

13th September 2022 | Musings | 6 comments

I went to a couple of concerts at the Lammermuir Festival – by the excellent Quatuor Mosaiques – over the days since the Queen’s death. Each concert started with a minute’s silence in honour of The Queen.

At the end of the minute, the players arrived quietly on stage and the concert began without the usual tuning.

The audience was probably in the mood to listen anyway, but I felt that the minute’s silence had deepened the sense of focus. It made me wonder whether the custom of beginning a concert with a minute’s silence (not in honour of anyone particular, just to recognise the musical occasion) would be a good thing to adopt more generally.

Back in the 1980s my group Domus used to do children’s concerts in our portable geodesic dome. We tried various formats, and for a while we got the children to do ‘listening practice’. We all stayed quiet for a minute or two and then shared what we had heard during the quietness. It was never silent, of course. As we were in a glorified tent there were always noises outside, from birds singing and traffic noises to funny snippets of talk from passers-by who didn’t know we were listening. Some children had even noticed the sound of their own breathing.

Eventually we dropped ‘listening practice’ because it felt a bit too much like a lesson. But we always felt that after listening practice the young audience was in a better frame of mind to settle down and listen to us playing. It was probably good for us too. The exercise focused everyone’s minds on the possibility of paying attention, a skill which can enhance any aspect of life.


  1. Mary Cohen

    Recently, on the radio, I heard a member of the current National Youth Orchestra talking about the silence they observe before rehearsals. I can still remember my first experience of that, decades ago, and how it made me feel ‘part of something’. So glad that more people have been sharing silences this week.

    • Susan Tomes

      I remember that ‘NYO Silence’ too. I think I didn’t appreciate it properly at the time – I found it rather a tense occasion, and worried about making a noise and disgracing myself. But perhaps things are handled differently these days.

  2. Stephen Venables

    I’m so glad they didn’t cancel the concerts. A minutes silence sounds just right. Reminds me of nonagenarian cellist Bruno Schrecker saying recently that he was becoming more and more interested in the silences between the notes.

    • Susan Tomes

      Yes, I was also glad they didn’t cancel the concerts. People need music at times of transition, I think.

  3. Archie McLellan

    I remember a conductor (Richard ?) at a Glasgow Prom in the 70s introducing some orchestral music by Webern (I think) by asking the audience to listen to their silence for a minute or so – the same duration as the piece. It certainly altered one’s perception of time (passing with and without music in it) but also gave a sense of silence being the world in which music can exist.

  4. James

    I think it’s a great idea but the audience should be forewarned. I once went to a concert beginning with Messiaen’s Quatre Etudes de Rythme… the lights were dimmed, the performer in place. He was obviously keen to ratchet up the tension because he didn’t move for at least a minute. The whole thing felt so ridiculous (has he forgotten it? is he dead?) that if he’d left it just two seconds longer I think the entire audience would have collapsed into uncontrollable fits of laughter!


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