In Beethoven’s Fifth, those iconic four heavy strums of “Dum, Dum, Dum, DUM” aren’t supposed to leap from the page with the first downbeat of the conductor’s wand. They come, I learned back in eleventh grade during a stint in regionals orchestra practice when my butt bones had hours to become intimately acquainted with the dull edge of a metal folding chair, after a rest. Now, when I hear the “Dum, Dum, Dum, DUM,” the notes actually burst forth after a catch in my breath. More of a “huh-Dum, Dum, Dum, DUM.”
The secret, known to most musicians who have plodded heavy-footed through the dense symphony, is in the rest.
The rest in music is not like “rest” as we conceive of it in the other parts of life. Rest makes me think of beaches, sunglasses, open squares of days on the calendar, and yummy drinks adorned with paper umbrellas. Rest, as I long for it in life, is unhurried, uninterrupted, unstressful time.
But life’s periods of rests are actually more like a musician’s in drawn breath of a rest than the beach-bikini-paper-umbrella-drinks variety.
A musician’s rest is expectant. It’s a dam holding back the insurgent, impatient waters ahead. It has tension. Foreknowledge. Temperance. It’s a moment of silence that makes the “Dum, Dum, Dum, DUM” that follows so much more impactful.
As I move into ten days of “R&R” with a vacation to Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, the rest I’m experiencing has the momentum of musical rests. The heavy strums of life’s demands lie just on the other side of these ten days, and so in this rest, I’m feeling the push of the notes that come next: work, laundry, emails, preschool, leaf-strewn yards, meal planning.
But just like in music, where the rest is as important or more than the notes that follow, rest in life makes magic happen.
Rest should be as deliberate and planned as the little squiggle that Beethoven penned into his Fifth masterpiece. It should have a sense of purpose. It should be as important (or more) than the activity that lies on the other side.
Perhaps most significantly, rest can be something that’s frequently unremarkable. Overlooked. Unknown.
It can be the stillness trapped in a bouquet of blooms lining a bustling corridor in Pike’s Place Market.
It can be a complex mouthful of clam chowder at The Steelhead Diner while a tired toddler demands, “NO! I want to watch Dora NOW!”
It can be the burble of a fountain in a Renton backyard offsetting the distant whispers of traffic.
It can be a fizzy tongue explosion of Lambic on the side deck of The Red House while a September chill wraps its arms around the night.
The secret to Rest is to pause, knowing that something special happens in the waiting, and linger for one significant beat before whatever comes next.