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Beethoven and the Gift of Silence

In 1801, at the age of 30, Ludwig van Beethoven complained about his diminishing hearing: “From a distance I do not hear the high notes of the instruments and the singers’ voices.”

Harvard professor Arthur C. Brooks notes that Beethoven “raged” against his decline. To be able to hear his own playing, he banged on pianos so forcefully that he often left them wrecked. By the age 45, he was completely deaf. He considered suicide but was held back only by the force of “moral rectitude.”

Cut off from the world of sound around him … at times he held a pencil in his mouth against his piano’s soundboard to feel the harmony of his chords. However, Beethoven produced the best music of his career, culminating in his incomparable Ninth Symphony, a composition so daringly new that it reinvented classical musical altogether.

Brooks wrote, “It seems a mystery that Beethoven became more original and brilliant as a composer in inverse proportion to his ability to hear. Deafness freed Beethoven as a composer because he no longer had society’s soundtrack in his ears.”

There are multiple lessons lurking in this tale. Most striking was the degree to which silence paradoxically allowed Beethoven to hear something new. In our current techno-cultural moment, we’re constantly connected to a humming, online, hive-mind of urgency. Sometimes, there’s long-term advantage in removing “society’s soundtrack” from our ears. As Beethoven so vividly demonstrates, we can’t really hear ourselves until we are able to turn down the volume on everyone else.

Possible Preaching Angle:

The same is true for the believer, you can’t really hear God until we turn down the deafening volume of the world. In his grace, God may take something from us in order to turn our attention fully to him.

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