Noise. (And a bit on music)

I’ve chosen noise as my next topic to explore as it’s one that fascinates me, and I haven’t quite got my head around it fully yet.

I have a very mixed relationship with noise. I’m a musician by trade, and a music teacher. I LOVE noise. When I was teaching secondary music I could quite happily sit at my desk surrounded by a class of thirty kids playing keyboard while I marked my A level essays, and still be able to pick out the ones who were hitting the demo button instead of doing their work. My classroom was noisy and chaotic, and I loved it.

On the flip side, sitting in a restaurant trying to have a meal I can literally lose the ability to speak, because I can’t process the level of noise around me. Or maybe it’s the type of noise – people speaking, glasses clinking, plates and cutlery, waiters walking around… I remember feeling a complete failure because every time I would go out for a nice meal with my ex-husband we would sit in silence. I found it really hard to hear what he was saying, even though he was only just across the table, and it was such a gargantuan effort to me to get my thoughts in order to think of anything to say.

I LOVE loud music. I realise I’m using capitals every time I talk about music, but for me it feels necessary in order to emphasise Just How Much I Like It. It’s excitement, anticipation, happiness, comfort, and good music often feels like it’s filling up my whole body. There are certain pieces or types of music that make me want to climb inside the speaker and curl up with my eyes closed. (There are other types of music that make me want to vomit.) I write and arrange a lot of music for my choirs, and when I’ve got the basics of the harmonies together I like to turn it up really loud so I can get inside it and feel where it works and where it doesn’t. When I used to use a laptop for this my husband would often walk in to the room and find me lying on the sofa with the laptop over my face, music blasting out.

I sometimes find it difficult to process things I’ve only heard, rather than read or written about. My daughter loves to write stories, and is forever wanting to read out bits to me, but my brain can’t catch hold of what she’s saying in the same way as if I read the words from the page. I can follow stuff I watch on TV, although I don’t watch anything particularly taxing or complicated – but I am much more comfortable if the subtitles are on.

I have an awful lot of music in my head, and it all co-exists quite nicely together. When I’m leading my choirs I can sing along with any of the parts, and often switch between parts multiple times during a song. I have a complex relationship with rhythm, which seems very straightforward to me, but seems to baffle other people who just can’t seem to understand how it all fits together. But there’s no ‘give’ in my system – if I’m trying to learn something new and am following someone who’s rhythm is just slightly off from where I think it should be I fall apart completely.

I’m not very good at tuning my fiddle. This often makes me feel like I’m a sub-standard musician, but there are days when I just can’t hear what the right note is, no matter how hard I try. Other days it’s not so bad. If I’m trying to do it somewhere noisy I have no chance whatsoever. Once, I was so frustrated by my inability to hear things properly that I asked for a referral to ENT. This was following a cold, and I was convinced that I had problems with my ears, as things were sounding stuffy and mixed up, and I couldn’t focus on things. After undergoing quite a lot of tests, I was told that my hearing was exceptionally good, and much better than most people’s. It’s only now that I’m realising it probably wasn’t anything to do with what I could *hear* but my ability to process it.

I’m not totally sure where I’m going with this post, so I’m going to leave it there. I still don’t quite know what makes the difference between a noise I am going to love, one that is going to quietly irritate me, or render me unable to speak, or one that is going to make me feel physically sick. I would love to talk to anyone who has similar experiences with sound – please leave me a comment or tweet me @folkycat.