Making Silence Musical

My students in my class, The Sounds of Silence: A Biodiversity of Quiet Women in a World of Brutal Noise,* made silence harmonic. Alejandro Miramontes’ beautiful song, “Lost in Times of Hardship,” braids the stories of Griselda (from Boccaccio’s Decameron, Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale, and Christine de Pizan’s The Book of the City of Ladies), the holy harlot St. Mary of Egypt, and Antoinette from Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea (the first wife of Rochester in Jane Eyre). His performance stunned us with its lyric intensity and musical professionalism. Thank you Alejandro!

My student, Elijah Guerra, likewise wrote music called “The Anchoress.” He was inspired by the Rule for Anchoresses. Listen to his lovely music here.

As he writes about Movement 1, “The first movement is my arrangement of Dies Irae, a Gregorian chant that describes Judgment Day and God’s reward and punishment for human deeds. The chant is relevant to the anchoress since she is held to strict standards and works to fulfill her duty to God.”

Concerning Movement 2, Elijah writes, “The first line of poetry is the Our Father prayer, spoken slowly and with a lethargic tone to convey the mental exhaustion of repeating prayers. This prayer is repeated until the end of the song. The Hail Mary prayer is then woven into the Our Father as a rapid whisper.”

Elijah explains concerning Movement 3, “The third movement is a piano solo in the style of atonal music, which was a style of music developed by Arnold Schoenberg. Atonal music has no tonal aim, and it utilizes most of the twelve tones defined by Western classical music. The resulting sound is dissonant and eerie. I chose this style to provide my interpretation of the mental dissonance of a person in seclusion who targets herself with guilt and submission. ”

I hope you enjoy this sonic silence.

* This is the course description:

This course looks at silent women, quiet women, and mute women. Sometimes their hush is self-imposed, other times it is violently forced upon them. Passing, they erase their race and gender orientation. Yet, even with their tongues cut out, women speak. Sexually violated, they insist on their story. Enslaved, they shape their ends. Philomela—raped and mutilated—survives as a mythic emblem of female voicelessness. Some texts we look at are modern novels that tell the stories of women denied their chance at speech—in feminist versions of Homer’s Odyssey, Beowulf, and Jane Eyre. In a variety of texts –from Roman myth, Icelandic saga, and medieval religious sign language texts to a cross-dressed female knight, victimized wife, and deaf nun—we will attempt to hear these quiet voices from the past and rowdily proclaim their vibrancy for their future.


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