In an Ocean of Noise


Some years ago I was appointed chairman of the board of a music school in the city of Hanau, Germany. As part of my duties, I attended an exhibit of musical instruments. Although I am not a musician, I strolled through the thousands of instruments and tried to ask an intelligent question or two.

As I wandered around the main floor, I noted that each exhibit had a soundproof enclosure, supposedly so that those trying out trumpets, cornets, French horns, organs, drums, or tubas would not disturb those trying out violins, clarinets, pianos, flutes, oboes, or saxophones. Actually, “not quite soundproof” would be a more accurate description of those enclosures. A terrible noise filled the air, as if musicians from several orchestras were all tuning their instruments at once.

Then I saw a sign reading “Orchestral Instruments” with an arrow pointing upstairs. I’m saved, I thought, even though the sign was a bit unclear—the instruments on the main floor were orchestral instruments. But I headed up the stairs anyway, hoping to find a little peace and quiet.

Instead I found myself in another large room filled with even more musical instruments—most of them used for performing rock music. The air was filled with much louder and shriller noises than those I was trying to escape. I quickly scanned the room for the closest exit.

But suddenly I stopped. For just a fraction of a second, I thought I heard a beautiful melody among all those discordant sounds. Was it possible? Or was it an illusion?

Then I heard the melody again. What an unmistakably beautiful sound! It was definitely a strain of violin music—almost lost in the ocean of noise. I looked around to see where it was coming from. I noticed that two others had heard it as well and were also seeking it out.

Eventually, we found what we were looking for. In the smallest booth in the hall, a man was softly playing a beautiful violin while his wife stood nearby. He told us that he was a Swedish violin maker and that he was trying to market his product the best he could amid the electric guitars and synthesizers.

“I was deceived,” he told us sadly. “I rented this spot because it was supposed to be the site of the orchestral exhibits.” Then he turned again to his violin, and we listened entranced as he played a familiar masterpiece. We no longer heard the discord around us—just the beautiful notes of that violin.

Some time later, while standing in an overcrowded room with too many intermingling voices, I was once again forced to choose what I would listen to among many discordant sounds. This time I didn’t hear beautiful music, but I was struck with the thought that often in life we are surrounded by many voices, some of which advocate false ideas, such as “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” (2 Ne. 28:7). Still other voices are loud and raucous, brazenly tempting us to try something new—such as a new morality that simply turns out to be the old immorality.

But even among these loud, conflicting messages, if we choose to listen carefully, we can hear the soft sound of a heavenly voice. And we can know that the still, small voice of the Spirit is just as real as the beautiful melody of a well-played violin.

[illustration] Illustrated by Matthew H. Maxwell