In music and in life, the last note is always the longest.
Whenever I’m teaching a new audio/video volunteer at church how to punch the buttons, play the songs, set the levels, I always warn them at some point about “audio whiplash.” Punching “stop” or “pause” while the music is still playing does to folks’ ears what slamming on the brakes in a car does to our necks. It hurts! So you always wait for the music to come to a “full and complete stop,” as flight attendants redundantly warn airline passengers, or you slowly fade it out. Either way, you let us land slowly, gently.
Waiting is always hard, and, yes, waiting for that last note to play out is hardest of all. It’s hard for me, too. It’s all I can do to force myself to wait, wait, wait to punch the “stop” button so as not to chop off even the slightest audio reverberation.
I need to talk some good audio engineer friends about this, but I figure they have some descriptive term for that last note, waiting for it, and what happens if you don’t. Maybe cutting it off is such a rookie mistake that professionals aren’t even tempted to, but I would be!
When I’m behind the mike in the sound booth, I know (usually) to be still and wait even after I’ve sung the last note of a song or a phrase or re-take. Wait for the silence. Then wait to hear in my headphones the voices of the engineer and producer from the control room, so I know it’s safe for me to talk, too.
But sitting behind the engineer in the control room as the musicians are recording tracks gives another point of view. I’m utterly amazed at their skill. I’m listening. I’m watching. I’m loving it. Sometimes I’m holding a mike and singing the “scratch track” to serve as a reference and for them to “play to.”
But then comes the last note. My last note ends before the musicians.’ And invariably my eyes go to the computer monitors in front of the engineer. I’m watching the audio wave files on the screens. Though it’s okay to breathe, I’m probably not. Usually, I’m holding my breath, staring a hole through the monitor as that last line levels out and the very last reverberations, echoes, overtones, all fade to silence. And I’m marveling at the engineer’s patience as he waits, waits, waits to stop recording.
It doesn’t matter how long it really is, that last note is the longest of all. Waiting for it to fade takes almost forever.
Dear Lord, give us the strength to wait for that last note to play out. If it’s a note of joy, beauty, love, or laughter, may we take it all in and wait for the sweet silence that will make our whispered “thank you” richer, deeper. If it’s a note of pain and suffering, help us still to drink it in, wait for it to fade, and open our hands to receive what you’ll give us in the silence. Whatever its tone, help us to hear it all, wait for the silence, and find waiting to meet us again your sweet hope, your real presence.
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Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.