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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Time & Space & Music

This blog's gonna ramble a bit...

Time's been on my mind today. Not enough time to get everything done before we leave for Brevard. Not enough time to completely prepare for recreating the Tai Chi Trees in Alcina. Oh - and there's still bits of Act 2 of Traviata I don't quite know (I guess I'm confessing the same thing as Maestro Slatkin, except he was in the midst of Met performances...)

Not enough time to take some time off; so many of us feel this way nowadays.

So I thought I'd take the time to blog about TIME.

Time expands, slows down, and speeds up when music is present - either being made or being listened to. We've all experienced this phenomenon, some more than others. I've known for quite some time (pardon that one), that my sense of time was a bit, um, different. At first I was made to feel that my sense of time was extraordinary (my mom wouldn't set the oven timer for cookies, I could just call them done at 9 or 10 or 11 minutes - whatever the recipe called for.) I had a crazy sense of time, almost Vulcan.

Later while I was in college, I was made to feel that my sense of time was deficient. You see, I couldn't keep a steady beat. At all. Really!

I had terrible experiences with others - particularly other students - who made it a point to point this out. I started to feel a bit incompetent, and then I started to think something was wrong. I realized that other musicians noticed if music was moving forward - they called this "rushing". They also noticed if the beat wasn't steady - I called it "being expressive." Sometimes they made faces when this happened, as if it was either hurting them, or something was smelling kinda bad. I usually perked up because something was happening of interest...

The metronome - an instrument that has nothing to do with music making - clicks inhumanly at regular intervals to make audible the illusion that there is a beat somewhere in time. For years I tried to practice with it, tried to understand how it simply wasn't representing the time that I felt inherent in the phrases of music I was playing. I swore the metronome was dragging or rushing through piece after piece. It didn't matter if it was Bach or Ravel or Mozart or Copland. Time clicked differently in me and in my music.

Now of course, with my 47 yrs of life giving me a bit more insight, it's clear as day that frankly my sense of time is vastly superior to those others out there making music who try to follow the illusion of time, ictus, and especially tempo. Okay, superior sounds a bit - well - superior. Sorry.

Maybe "more evolved" would be a better way of saying it? Except that I think what's gone on in music lately is a devolution of time -- into a non-human, robotic sense of time clicking in even beats that neither speed up or slow down. Perhaps it's the GarageBand software, or the clicktracks on Broadway, or the computerization of music making via Sibelius or Finale. Once a composer puts something on the computer, and it's 4 minutes and 31 seconds long, it ALWAYS is 4 minutes and 31 seconds long (until a human plays it live and messes it up!)

However, Music is Art; and time flows in Art differently than in life. Isn't that part of what draws us to Art? The ebb and flow of time is unique to each great piece of art I've ever worked on - from Chopin's 2nd ballade to Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle.

Art certainly needs its Apollonian construct and structure to exist. It’s the vessel that art lives in – like Time sitting in Space. Art exists at the intersection where things vibrate – the vibration of creativity, the vibration of the string or the voice, the vibration of the emotional energy of an actor, the vibration of light & color on the stage, etc. Vibrations are key to understanding Time and Space and I think this connection to music and music making is vital and needs to be explored.

Time opens up whenever Music happens. Another way to open time (or better yet, allow it to flow freely), one needs to allow for divergent thinking to create possibilities (i.e. works of art) to explore all those great questions posed by composers, scores, libretti, collaborations, singers, pianists, conductors, etc.

Exploration takes time, but leads to Discovery and New Lands and New Horizons. Yet, it is such a vast missing component in today's world of google-the-answer-now and tell-me-how-it's-supposed-to-go.

Take the time to simply explore, next time you've got the chance to make some music or learn some music or listen to music or look at a sculpture.

And throw that metronome away!