“People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening”
The Sound of Silence
That’s what I thought as the young children in the audience began to whisper and fidget. It was about 45 minutes in to the touring production of The Sound of Music at the HK APA Lyric Theatre. Now it’s a big ask to expect a four or five year old to sit attentively for 2+ hours. And you might think that parents should consider seriously how much their children (and the patrons sitting nearby) can bear before they buy tickets. But I’m not here to complain about overestimated maturity levels or audience behavior in the age of the smart phone. I’m here to tell you what happened after the intermission.
We were three moms – Cass, Lesley and myself – taking our daughters (ages 12-13) to a musical. We met up for brunch beforehand where conversation inevitably got round to school and the perennial struggles with our children’s attention levels, motivation and always, always (!) – digital distractions. It’s a never-ending source of frustration.
Lesley has been a primary school teacher for many years, and so we asked her if she’s seen a decline in attention spans, if her job has gotten harder. She said teaching over the last decade has changed, from taking a topic and teaching it to the kids to deciding together what they want to discover and giving them the tools to pursue that knowledge. Inquiry-based learning, as we all know it. She also said emphatically that any time her class had ‘golden time’ (free time that’s been earned through good behavior) they inevitably chose playtime on the laptops. Screens, screens, screens. We do like our screens.
Empathy, sustained concentration, deep focus, social skills. It seems like every day we read of yet another study bemoaning the erosion of these qualities in people who are tied to their phones and tablets. It’s a creeping feeling, a nagging worry that we’re not preparing our children for serious thinking – introspection as an endangered species – and that young people can’t experience or appreciate a show, an event or a scenic vista without documenting it via selfie.
But what I witnessed at The Sound of Music has given me hope.
After the intermission, the show resumed with Maria returning to the Von Trapp household. The children were ecstatic to see her, and she was happy to be back. The Mother Superior had counseled her not to run away from her feelings and soon enough the time came for Maria and Captain Von Trapp to reveal their hearts to each other. At this point, it was just the two actors on stage. The excitement of Maria’s return had subsided and the mood was romantic, intimate. They sang ‘Something Good’. Then the music stopped and the couple was left to say what they needed to say. The actors spoke but they took their time; they let the scene breathe. There were pauses, glances, even moments of complete silence, before their ultimate kiss. And in that stillness, however brief, the audience relaxed in to a kind of hush. I think it surprised us all. Even the children. After our collective awkwardness at the silence (What? No noise?), we grew quiet ourselves – to watch, to listen, to be a witness to their love. Only later did I realize how rare and wonderful it felt to be in the moment with a thousand other people. Wait a minute, we seemed to say, you mean we can be still?
Yes. We can be still. The show continues through 21 June 2015. For more info click here.
Jennifer S. Deayton is a writer and filmmaker living in Hong Kong. She blogs about music and motherhood at http://therockmom.com/.