The silence, when appropriately observed, is where the audience participation happens. It is where thinking occurs. It is when their information processng catches up with the actor's line delivery. It creates suspense. It is when to expect an emotional reaction, even laughter or applause. It is when the Spirit testifies of truth.
The spaces between the notes in music are very important. Much like delivering the punch line of a joke or pausing just enough to emphasize an important point, the rests in music clarify the musical thought, delineate the articulation, build up the suspense, and a host of other great things. If the music went on and on with no rests the effect would be like an entire paragraph read as a run-on sentence. The emphasis and meaning would be lost to the audience. They need the pauses to give them time to process the information. The listener of music needs the spaces of silence to punctuate the meaning of the music.
Sometimes the performer or speaker doesn't get it. They ignore the moments of pause or rest and plough right through continuing with their message without giving the audience time to process, react, understand or even applaud. That's when they lose interest. No one likes to be run over by a steam roller! It's the same in music. When the dynamic levels stay the same for measure after measure, the audience gets bored, or worse, offended by the constant onslaught. A performance without variety in effects, tempo, dynamics, and moments of rest is simply ineffective.
When the audience is bored or lost or unable to process, they check out and begin to entertain themselves in other ways. The revered Baroque composer, George Frederic Handel, understood the concept of the "potent pause" very well. He often included measures of sudden and absolute silence at moments of important emphasis in his master oratorios. Unfortunately, not all audience members have an appreciation of the highly ornamented Baroque musical style. Once, during a community sing-along performance of Handel's "Messiah," two older women decided they had listened long enough to the very busy polyphonic music and decided to exchange holiday recipes instead. Their conversing got louder and louder so they could her each other over the music rising to a climax. Then, at the "Grand Pause" in the final measures of Handel's majestic "Hallelujah Chorus," one lady said loudly to the other, "I MAKE MINE WITH LARD!"
We as musicians really need to be aware of our performances and how the audience is responding. Hopefully, the audience will be receptive and stick with us. Hopefully we will include times of Potent Pauses for the audience to take in all that we are giving. Hopefully, the performance will be so riveting that no one in the audience will be lost! The best audience will have some knowledge at least of deportment and etiquette! Hopefully they will understand that moments of silence really are golden!
An example of using a potent pause for building suspense: In the Halloween song "We Are Out to Scare You," there are pauses for effect between the scary opening of the song and the funny follow-on part. When doing this song with a class, the teacher will ask the children for input of what characters to use in the funny part. The teacher will take those suggestions, but not reveal her choice until the instant it will be sung. She might even hold up pictures. The class will quickly join in. The scary part builds some suspense and suddenly there is a pause that builds more suspense -- and only the teacher will signal precisely when to begin the next part and what character to sing. It's a little like leading the group to the edge of a cliff and trying to hold them back before they fall!
Depending on how effective the teacher is,
this pause can be pretty potent and very fun!