Finding Silence

By Alia McKean, violin

For weeks after I returned from Europe, the last tantalizing dregs of wanderlust manifested as a stubborn twinge in my muscles, urging me to move, experience, see, and absorb. On tour, there was always the thrilling promise of movement, of finding new, exciting things to do and see when we weren’t playing music. The moments I think about the most, however, are the quiet ones where I discovered silence and beauty in unexpected places.

Upon arriving in beautiful Prague, I decided that I would make memories apart from those told in photographs, so I focused on experiencing each passing moment to its fullest extent. Caught up in the ensuing whirlwind of sights, sounds, and colors, I lost myself in the rain-slicked, cobblestoned paths that wound tightly through the hills and back down to the castle. I found silence in the vast stained glass windows of St. Vitus Cathedral that filtered jewel-colored light; in the rhythmic drone of rain on my umbrella as I took in and memorized sweeping views of red-tiled roofs; in my incessant footsteps as I walked swiftly past street musicians and pastel-colored shops, dodging slow-moving tourists. I was racing time because there was so little of it.

Prague

In Vienna, we visited the expansive Zentralfriedhof, final resting place of musical giants Ludwig Van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, and Johannes Brahms. I was filled with a quiet gratitude as I thought about what their music had done for me over the years, lifting me out of the deepest of ruts, giving me space to grow and to be larger than myself. I meandered between rows of elaborate tombstones, reading names and wondering about the stories attached to them. The solemn, windswept silence was broken only by the soft pad of my footsteps.

I fell hard and fast for Bratislava, despite the short duration of our stay. I explored alone in the afternoon, wandering aimlessly through the narrow winding streets, stumbling over uneven cobblestones, feeling the soft sunlight glowing on my skin, peering around the corners of time-worn buildings. I found beauty in its flaws: the way the brick peeked out beneath the paint, the way the doors hung on rusty hinges, the way weeds grew in every nook and cranny. It was beautiful in its brokenness. A quiet sort of beauty. When I returned at night with friends, the quaint warmth I had felt earlier was gone, snuffed out by the dark. The streets were deserted and the broken doors gaped crookedly. We drank in the silence, watching smudgy bats wheel about the illuminated steeple of a church.

Bratislava

During our last afternoon in Budapest, I sat idly on the banks of the Danube River with a friend, watching light dance across the rippled surface of the water. The silence after our final performance had been short-lived and bittersweet. After we played our encores, the energetic audience began its rhythmic cycles of synchronized clapping. I couldn’t seem to wipe a wide, silly smile off of my face, especially during our liveliest rendition yet of Gershwin’s “American in Paris.” We were all undoubtedly exhausted from full days of adventures and music-making, but we somehow managed to pour every remaining ounce of our energy into a truly compelling and memorable performance.

At night, some of us chose to walk along the river on our way back to the hotel. Dark water churned somewhere beneath our feet, teeming with electric squiggles of light. It was difficult to say goodbye, but the silence of those moments was unforgettable.

Budapest

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