If these ceil­ings could talk

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Gary MacDougall Gary MacDougall is a re­tired man­ag­ing editor of The Guardian. He can be reached at pei­ivory­tower@gmail.com.

“A sen­sa­tion caused in the air by vi­bra­tions of lon­gi­tu­di­nal waves of pres­sure pass­ing through the sur­round­ing air or other medium.”

That is how my Cana­dian Ox­ford Dic­tionary de­fines sound. It’s very log­i­cal, like some­thing Mr. Spock would say.

Such a dry def­i­ni­tion seems about right when re­fer­ring to cer­tain sounds — harsh ones like honk­ing car horns, ob­nox­ious mo­tor­cy­cle muf­flers and earpierc­ing smoke de­tec­tors.

The def­i­ni­tion doesn’t seem so ad­e­quate for more pleas­ant sounds, such as those made by sway­ing trees make in a sum­mer breeze, the joy­ful sounds of chil­dren play­ing, the snor­ing of con­tented old dogs or the mag­i­cal sounds that fill Prince Ed­ward Is­land’s many mu­si­cal venues.

The ma­jor­ity of us, those for­tu­nate not to have some form of im­pair­ment, take our senses for granted. We are hot-wired to the five of them: sound; sight; touch; smell; taste.

Un­less we pur­posely put a bar­rier in the way, i.e. acous­tic ear muffs, blind­folds, gloves, etc., it’s vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble for our senses not to kick in.

All of them are pre­cious hu­man gifts, but the sense of sound is the one that has been on my mind of late.

Just re­cently I at­tended a mu­si­cal recital at the his­toric Kirk of St. James in Char­lot­te­town. The mezzo-so­prano’s ren­di­tion of the works of Han­del, Gior­dani and Rossini vi­brated off the Kirk’s stately in­te­rior col­umns and up to its beau­ti­ful ceil­ing.

It re­minded me of my own church and its warm in­te­rior, which fea­tures stained wood from its floor to the walls and up to the vast ceil­ing. Imag­ine the num­ber of won­drous mu­si­cal per­for­mances that have danced about in the air.

Or, imag­ine the sounds that have bounced off the walls and ceil­ing of Con­fed­er­a­tion Cen­tre of the Arts’ Hom­burg Theatre — for that mat­ter, in any of the many com­mu­nity halls, churches and school assem­bly rooms across the province.

The venues lined with wood have most tweaked my sup­ple and, some would say, child-like imag­i­na­tion. It’s the same wood that was once part of a liv­ing, grow­ing or­gan­ism fu­elled by sun­shine and wa­ter — in­gre­di­ents hu­mans and trees have in com­mon. Of course the wood that sur­rounds us has been greatly al­tered by saws and ham­mers and oils and lac­quers. But since it once was liv­ing, I’m not con­vinced it still doesn’t pos­sess one of the five senses — the sense of sound.

If so, imag­ine the great joys, sor­rows and mo­ments of mu­si­cal ex­cel­lence that must be in­grained in the wood.

I won­der, do the lay­ers of mu­sic pile on top of one another, much like sand sed­i­ments do to form rock? Only in the case of the mu­si­cal sed­i­ments, they must ex­ist in a di­men­sional plane that can’t be seen or heard by we hu­mans. Or, at least by those who don’t take the time to lis­ten and imag­ine.

So, the next time you are seated in a mu­si­cal venue, don’t just look around; al­low your sense of won­der to dream about sound.

And, most im­por­tantly, to lis­ten.


The his­toric Kirk of St. James’ sanc­tu­ary in Char­lot­te­town hosts many con­certs through­out the year.

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