“The sounds of silence”

Has anybody noticed:  We have become terrified of silence.

If you go to a Major League baseball game, any pause in the action is filled with noise.  Between pitches, the organist (or all the worse, a recording of an organist) plays silly music.  The “let’s go, team” or other rallying music plays over & over. (It’s as though the fans can’t do anything on their own — they always need the stadium sound system to jar them in the brain with something loud.  “Now is the time to get excited.”)  Between at-bats, the next batter’s favorite song is played.  Between innings, the sound system blasts music.

It’s impossible to carry on a conversation!

The charm of watching baseball is that fans can talk once in a while.  It isn’t the rabid, venomous environment of people watching football.

But it seems MLB is so afraid that young fans won’t enjoy a game where there are pauses and moments of silence.  MLB franchises set up the experience so that when a young person is at a game, the entire stadium acts like their personal headphones.  Noise must be continual.

It is the headphone culture that MLB is trying to attract.

Other sports franchises are doing it, too.  Friends took me to see Pittsburgh’s indoor football team, the Power.  It was louder than a rock concert.  My ears hurt!  We left at halftime.

I remember a conversation with a middle-aged mother whose husband was a professor of history at my seminary, the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.  Margie Partee was born in Africa, the daughter of renowned Presbyterian missionaries Don and Lyda McClure.  What made the McClure family renowned was that they would go into remote areas of Sudan and Ethiopia and hack out a mission station in the bush.  Daughter Margie grew up in places where she never saw a television, a telephone, a record-player…

When she returned to the states to attend high school, Margie experienced the confusion of culture shock not only with regard to the faster pace of life, but the strange habits of her peers.  She could never figure out why a teenager would never walk anywhere alone.  If only to go the grocery store down the block, a teenage girl or boy wanted somebody to go with them.


I suggested a reason.

A teenager walking alone doesn’t want to seem un-cool.   A teenager alone fears being seen.  If you are alone, you must not have many friends.

Thus, the headphones.  If you are alone, you can wear headphones.  You have a “cover” — you’re alone but you’re listening to music.  Which often isn’t music at all but rather a heavy, monotone chant with lots of banging and thumping in the background.

If you watch ESPN or any sports network, you may notice that whenever a film clip from a game is being show, there is always fast-paced music being played in the background.  It’s as though the action of the game isn’t enough — the fan needs subliminal shock treatment.  Every nerve must be tingling, lest the fan, especially the young, lose interest.

The result — at least for those of us whose hearing has not yet been blasted into dullness — is that there is coast-to-coast noise!  At any sports event, or watching it on TV — noise!  And idiotic noise!

Here’s how I watch a Pittsburgh Pirates game on TV when I’m home.  I have the remote in my right hand.  A batter comes to the plate.  His theme song is blasted over the sound system.  I hit the remote — “mute.”

The batter gets a hit.  The sound system plays a recording of an organ playing, “Let’s go, Bucs.”


The next batter gets a walk.  The sound system again plays a recording of an organ.  “Let’s go, Bucs.”


And the one time when I WANT to hear lots of noise — when somebody hits a home run — the stadium explodes fireworks.  Part of the excitement of a home run is the sound of the crowd.  But now the sound of the crowd is drowned out by the fireworks.

It’s as though MLB has no confidence at all that they’ve got a good product.  Baseball must be accessorized by noise all game long, so as to keep the headphone population engaged, and even a home run isn’t exciting enough.  The fans have to be given fireworks.

The concern isn’t about baseball.  It’s a deeper matter.  It’s about why people, especially teens and college students, begin squirming if they find themselves in silence.

I remember the former NBC anchor, John Chancellor, remarking about the non-stop schedule of a President (any President, not one in particular).  We see the pace of the schedule whenever a President is sitting still at an event — and has to struggle to keep awake.  John Chancellor said, with a schedule so non-stop, when does a President have time to THINK?

All the more so for the rest of us.  Even in the 1800s — before any noise was brought into our homes by telephone, television, record-player, headphones — Thoreau and Emerson were cautioning Americans about the trend.  Busier and busier, and when do people have time to think?  What do I want out of life?  What is worthy of my time — what lasts?  How do I want to conduct myself when there’s an argument?

Above all, Emerson and Thoreau warned us against getting caught up in trivialities — things that occupy us, even anger us, but really don’t matter in the long run.  Our days are spent absorbed by the latest trend, which by the end of our lives seems a lot of time spent on what didn’t contribute to growth of character.

Pete Seeger used to sing a song called “Garbage.”  It has one stanza about people eating garbage — another stanza about people gorging on junk food for their mind:

“In the paper there’s a story about the Mayor’s middle name

and he gets it done in time to watch the All-Star Bingo Game.

We’re filling up our minds with garbage.”

A person who gives thought to “what is quality,” what do I want to bring into my life…can discern.

Emerson and Thoreau advised — some time must be spent in silence, and best of all — in silence with nature.

“The incommunicable trees begin to persuade us to live with them, and quit our life of solemn trifles,” wrote Emerson.  “..the day was not wholly profane in which we have given heed to some natural object.”

Having time to think and to assess, we discern.

“Henceforth,” wrote Emerson, “I shall be hard to please.  I cannot go back to toys.”



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