R. Murray Schafer, chapter on Silence (Part 2)

I continue the discussion from a previous post.

After speaking of the tradition of one minute of silence on Remembrance Day, R. Murray Schafer describes the program of the War Remembrance as commemorated each May 4 in Utrecht, Netherlands:

6:00 p.m. Lowering of flags to half mast in the entire city, until darkness falls. Closing of public amusements. No advertising or store-window lighting.

7:15 p.m. Participants in the Silent Procession will form in threes in St. Peter’s churchyard. The places for relatives of the deceased, and other participants will be indicated on signs. People are asked not to carry ensigns, flags or wreaths with them.

7:30-8:00 p.m. The procession will slowly make its way beneath the sound of all church bells. During the procession, people are requested to be still (literally, to pay atten­tion to being silent). The route: St. Peter’s church­ yard to the Cathedral Square via Voetius Street, Cathedral Street, the Old Church Square, Choir Street, Servet Street and under the Cathedral Tower.

8:00 p.m. The bells end and two minutes of total silence begin. This precisely is indicated by the first of eight chimes of the Cathe­dral Clock and the lighting of the Cathedral Square.

8:02 p.m. End of two minutes’ silence. The Royal Utrecht PTT Brass Band will play two couplets from the Wilhel­mus, sung by those present. During this a wreath will be placed at the foot of the Memorial to the Fallen on behalf of the entire citizenry of Utrecht. All par­ticipants in the procession will file past the Memorial and will have the opportunity of laying the flowers brought with them. Everyone is urged to co-operate so that this may be carried out with as much stillness as possible.

8:15-8:45 p.m. An organ recital in the church by Stoffel van Viegen, closed by the singing of two couplets from the Wil­helmus.

Participation is open to everyone.

Attending this ceremony Barry Truax recalled:

It is a unique acoustic ritual in the community. Nothing in the experi­ence of a North American can match it for depth of emotion. As you approach the square, the thundering mass of the largest Cathedral bells rolls over you, enforcing a hypnotic and fearful silence on every­ one gathering. The entire weight of the tragedy of the War seems expressed in the heavy low-pitched mass of sound emanating from the high tower.

Slowly, one by one, the bells end and the texture thins as the procession emerges from the passageway under the Tower and slowly divides into rows in front of the Memorial.

The noisy city has become deathly quiet. Now the silence seems as oppressive as the bells did a few moments before. That heavy bombardment seems to have cleansed the air of the city’s usual pro­fanity, leaving a strange and nervous calm.

Very quietly a handful of musicians sound the opening chords of the National Anthem in muted low registers. There is an electric moment as a slow unison vibration is born in the throats of all present. The ground itself seems to rise to emit a resonating cry, slowly rising and turning around you in every direction. For a moment the unity these gentle and defiant people felt in the face of the Occupation seems rekindled.

Yet the military is absent. Slowly the individual mourners file past the Memorial to lay their own flowers after the young lad and girl have lifted the city’s wreath into place. The number of mourners has fallen off in recent years, but for these few, the experience is relived in a profound and beautiful ceremony, which ends as we enter the Cathedral to the reverberant tones of the organ.

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