What a Racket – Some Reflections on Noise

It’s high summer in Minneapolis.

Usually that means that I begin my days out in the garden, sleepily gazing at whatever is blooming while I take my first blissful sips of coffee. I was doing that just this morning when it began: the roaring, rumbling, crashing, beeping cacophony of the construction next door.

I live two doors down from Minnehaha Academy’s north campus. Last summer there was a huge gas explosion there that tragically cost two people their lives and gravely injured another. I was home when the blast happened and still remember the house shaking under my feet. It was the loudest thing I have ever heard.

Now they are in the process of rebuilding.

I work at home, so the constant racket has a daily impact on my work. I close my windows and turn on my air conditioning to block the noise in order to hear my voice coaching clients. When I’m trying to concentrate on something – like writing this blog or composing an email or designing a voice course – my brain gets scrambled by the relentless noise.

It also impacts my private time. One of my favorite places to be is in my hammock chair on the back deck. It’s the perfect spot for eating lunch, watching birds, reading books and chatting with friends. This year I’ve spent little time there. Their workday is often eleven hours long – from 7 am to 6 pm. That leaves a tiny window to be outside before the mosquitoes come out in force.

Summer is generally a noisy time here in the city. The road along the river and the bridge across it seem to awaken something wild in motorcycle riders. I hear revving in three pitches – deep Harley roars, crotch-rocket tenors and little motor bike whines. Several times a day UPS trucks careen around my corner with an urgent rumble. There are barking dogs, beeping car alarms and wailing sirens in the soundtrack of city summers.

This season has taken the noise up a notch.

My ears are unusually sensitive. It comes with the work I do as a singer, voice coach and song leader. I rarely have music playing in my house. No matter how wonderful the tune, it can’t complete with the resonant peace of silence. When I go out dancing, my earplugs come with me. On the rare occasions that I encounter a television (I haven’t had one for 30 years), I’m taken aback by how fast, aggressive and LOUD it is.

This onslaught of noise has got me wondering. Who is the sadistic person who designed back-up beepers? Today there are three of them, all one-half step apart in pitch. When they are all going at once, the dissonance makes my molars ache. What is the emotional impact of such constant and intense noise? How does it affect the workers at that construction site who hear it all day long in much closer proximity? And perhaps the biggest question of all, how can I find peace inside when all is noisy outside? Wish me luck…..

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About Barbara McAfee

Barbara is a voice coach, singer/songwriter, keynote speaker, and author who merges lessons from 12 years in organization development with the transformational power of sound. Her book, Full Voice: The Art & Practice of Vocal Presence (Berrett-Koehler Publishers) was a #1 Amazon bestseller in Business Communication. The book is based on her 25 years as a voice coach, supporting people from many professions in learning how to access the full power and expression of the voice in service to their work and relationships. Barbara’s musical keynotes blend practical content, sophisticated humor, and thought-provoking questions on topics including voice, leadership, and engagement. She was “the band” for Margaret Wheatley’s Women’s Leadership Revival Tour, which visited 15 North American cities. She also appears with authors Parker Palmer and Peter Block. Barbara has produced seven CD's of mostly original music and is founder of the Morning Star Singers, a volunteer hospice choir in the Twin Cities. She lives across the street from the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
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4 Responses to What a Racket – Some Reflections on Noise

  1. Jill says:

    Too right, Barbara!!! How about the current loud “vibe” in restaurants? Ack!

    • I agree, Jill! I am now seeking out restaurants that don’t have TV screens everywhere ….and are quiet enough that I can actually enjoy conversing with my dinner companions!

  2. Mary M says:

    I feel for you! And I resonate as another sound and light sensitive person. One summer there was road construction on the next street over from ours and every morning the back up beepers were a constant source of disturbance to my inner being. As it was especially bad one day I said to Bob, “Don’t they EVER go forward!!”.
    Peace to you, Barbara!

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