A Convergence Project by Journalism Students at Roosevelt University

These are the sounds of the city

By John W. Fountain
Photo by Brandon Ousely
Air brakes hiss in the evening rush hour fray. City buses squeak and squeal. The L winds around the track above Wabash Avenue, rumbling and roaring, steel on steel—drowning out conversations with a deafening familiar sound. And yet, it is music, of sorts, with a decidedly urban flavor—fluid and sometimes static, a resounding river of humanity.
If I listen closely, I can hear the march of feet up and down the street—some more hurried than others. The horns of taxis are more conspicuous, even if less angry than the darting, blaring taxicabs of Midtown Manhattan. This is Chicago.
 “Spare some change,” a man with a cup chirps on North Michigan Avenue. “Wall Street, can you help me out?” he bids of passing businessmen.
There is sometimes the wail of a street artist’s saxophone. Sometimes the glaring rat-a-tat-tat of the boys who beat buckets for pocket change. A symphony of machines and men that flows across this Windy City.
Photo by John W. Fountain
It is a city that sometimes speaks as softly as the spray of water this evening at Crown Fountain at Millennium Park, or as quietly as summer mornings along the shores of Lake Michigan, where I have heard fisherman cast their poles into rippling waters with a plop, even as waves kissed its banks.
It is a city that roars like gunfire in some neighborhoods. That coughs loudly like the thud of heavy steel machinery I hear pounding concrete. That blares with sirens. These are the sounds of the city, playing in HD, though too often I am admittedly tuned in on AM.
It is a soundtrack that I have found to be uniquely Chicago, the nation’s third largest city with an estimated 2.7 million people. Chicago. Transplant home of the Blues, home of Gospel music, and the American rock band Chicago.
Except I have sometimes found the static of life too loud and the pace sometimes too fast for me to stop and hear the music that forms the chords of the songs of life. Not by musical instrumentation. But by the melodies and harmonies created collectively by every living being. From the smallest to the most significant. From the most minute to the mightiest.
From street musicians who dot the urban landscape to the exchange between a taxi driver and his fare. From the high school football team trampling across the field on a muggy September day to the rumbling laughter of old men chewing the fat over a cup of java inside a café.
Photo by John W. Fountain
It is the sounds of the subway, the hustle and bustle of airports, the kiss of skates on ice, the chatter of school children drifting from a playground. It is the song of morning birds at the first light of dawn and the symphony of hiccupping crickets and whistling cicadas at night. The music of a Chicago wind mixed with thunder, rain.
And in my estimation, it is all worth hearing, especially in a world where we have learned to ignore so many—and so much—resounding all around us. Especially in a time when we drown out so much of life with “noise-cancelling” headphones, with busyness, with impatience, with digital music downloads and social media. A world where we sometimes don’t really appear to be listening. And I can’t help but wonder just how much we might be missing.