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The halls are alive with the sounds of … Brandeis

By Sean Fabery

Section: Arts

February 26, 2010

Footsteps. Laughter. A girl on her cell phone. A stereo blasting Lady Gaga. A bongo.

As anyone living in a dorm can attest, you’re likely to hear all of these on any given day, blending in with a plethora of other sounds to which you’ve become accustomed. If anyone were to ask you about them, there’s a pretty good chance that you’d express your annoyance. They can keep you from focusing on your work, they can keep you from getting some much needed shut-eye, and some of the music other people play is simply unpleasant. I’m in complete agreement with this assessment.

But, simultaneously, I’ve come to find something wonderful in all these noises. I admit this has not always been the case. I’ve shown up in my lounge to tell others to quiet down. I’ve become fed up with the lack of regard some people have for others. But, simply put, there’s something great in sheer noise.

At the beginning of our last break, I stayed on-campus for two days. Initially I didn’t think it would be a big deal—at the very least, it would be a good opportunity to get work done. Besides, surely some people would be sticking around.

Within a few hours of the end of classes, East had seemingly become a ghost quad. Nothing is as spooky as finding a place usually filled with so much sound suddenly rendered silent.

This problem extended beyond my brief stay in the dorm, however. Once at home, it persisted—too little noise, too much quiet. Only the occasional honking car or chirping bird would break up the monotony of the night’s silence. My home certainly is more comfortable than my cell in East, but it left me drowning in silence.

Yes, the typical noises one finds in a dorm often annoy but there’s a certain immediate sense of vibrancy that’s charming in its own way. Each sound is a distinct impression left by one or more of your fellow students. When will you be granted this kind of experience again? Regular homes and apartments don’t lend themselves to that kind of impersonal personal exchange.

The most obvious sounds you hear in a dorm stem from the people who love programming their own selection of music for the hall to hear, whether it’s in order to study or simply to get up and dance. The sheer eclectic nature of the music you’re liable to hear in a dorm is astounding. The kitschy pop stylings of Lady Gaga have intermingled with classic Miles Davis jazz at least once on a floor—and, if I remember correctly, they were coming from the same room.

There’s something to be said for people who choose to express themselves musically, whether it’s through singing or the guitar. As with virtually anything one’s likely to encounter in life, it can become obnoxious, but there’s something beautiful to be found in the sheer creativity of it. One of my hallmates last year lived next to a member of an A cappella group and confessed that hearing this person sing through the wall would actually help lull him to sleep late at night.

When I think of musicians at work in the dorm, my mind instantly goes to this mythical bongoist who inhabits my building. Throughout the fall semester, the tapping and thundering of his instrument would waft up to our window every now and then. He became something of a dorm-wide sensation—for a short while, it appeared that everyone in Hassenfeld knew exactly what you meant when you mentioned the mysterious bongoist. There was a kind of communal relief in finding out that no, you were not crazy and hallucinating a bongo.

One day, while busily at work, I looked up to find three people standing in my doorway, peering into the room.

“Is he here?” they asked in a tentative whisper. “You know, the bongo guy?”

I had to tell them that no, he was not—but in a sense I was relieved that the mystery was alive, and that it was something connecting so many people who didn’t actually know one another.

For all this emphasis on music, however, I would be remiss not to mention the other, less prominent things one hears in a hall, all of which come together to create a kind of ambient anthem for the dorm.

No matter what time it is, there are always footfalls in the hall, accompanied frequently by indecipherable hushed whispers. It’s almost calming in the sense of the reassurance that it gives one about the consistency of life.

One of my favorite ambient noises happens to be the sound made when my neighbors open and close their mirrored medicine cabinets, which always close with a loud slam. Again, it serves as a reminder of the perpetual motion around you, and, on the weekends, I always know when it’s okay to knock on their door to ask if they want to grab brunch.

There’s little doubt that it can be annoying when someone on your hall suddenly decides to rock out to Miley Cyrus just as your head is hitting the pillow. The same applies when zoo noises begin reverberating around the dorm. But, if nothing else, it keeps you up-to-date with contemporary pop radio, and it’s nothing a loud, well-placed fan can’t fix.

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