Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Keeping Time

As a musician, I know about time. There's a time-value for every note, flourish, melody, run, everything. When I think about time in music I think about order, or keeping time.  The trick is to keep the same tempo, or speed, throughout the entire piece unless otherwise dictated by the composer.  Sometimes the composer wants you to get faster, sometimes slower, sometimes even calando, to slowly die out. Whatever the direction, one of the most important aspects of music is keeping time.  This is one reason orchestras have conductors, why musicians have metronomes, and why audiences sometimes find themselves clapping to the beat.  Time in music is kind of like the invisible elephant in the room.  No one sees it, but everyone knows it's there.

I began thinking about this pretty deeply recently, since everyone keeps saying "I have no time." It comes with the fall I guess.  School starts, activities start, people move, babies grow, seasons change, people get married, the holidays approach, etc. It gets crazy!  In music, all time has a measure, a value, and you can use time, fast or slow, to evoke emotions from your audience and yourself.  But how do you keep time in life?

It appears to me that time in music and time in life are not all that different.  Both have measures of rest where you can breathe or relax, and in both you must keep track of where you are so you're not late when you have to play again.  You keep the tempo steady while you're playing, you find a pace you can keep in life, and you add in things or activities when the music or when the calendar dictates. At the end of the piece or day, you usually slow down before starting something new or doing it over again.

I can't tell you how many times I have said "I'm sorry I haven't had the time."  The thing is, time is a constant, but it is an otherwise empty constant until we fill it.  Whenever I say I haven't had time I always know that whatever I forgot simply was not a priority for me. When I fill my time I have things that come first, second, third, and some that aren't even on my radar.  I find it tremendously difficult to keep time and make time.  I realize though, that in music, there is always time for every detail to unfold exactly the way it should, you just have to work up to incorporating every single one. Life, I find, is the same way. You must work to balance every aspect to make each day a beautiful thing.

In music, if you neglect certain sections, the piece can't go on as it should.  We all need to learn that even if we feel we don't have time, we must make time for the things that matter. When I "make" time in music, it is the hours I spend practicing and going back to difficult sections in a piece and making them coalesce with the stronger parts.  When I make time in life, I go to the people who mean the most and strengthen my relationships with them so their places in my life are secure.

Life, like music, takes practice.  So what do you do when it seems everything is getting away from you?  Even in the fastest, most frenetic pieces of music there are rests, or parts where you do not play.  The trick is finding where your rests are and what you can do to make the most of them. For instance, my friend and I recently moved to our own separate apartments, and it has been super hard to see her. Instead of trying to hang out at night when we are both exhausted, we make time to have coffee at 8am and debrief before the day starts. We usually meet at a halfway point between our locations, which means going a little out of our way to spend time.  To me, that time means more than anything because we take the time to be present with each other even though there is a lot happening. If you know where your rests are or will be, make plans to hang out in advance. It can make all the difference.

You MUST know your priorities. If you can't do 8am coffee, take 4 seconds to send a text and let someone know you're happy to have them as a part of your life. No matter how you keep your time, people are what matter, and if you let other things get in the way, you end up hurting others and yourself.  We are blessed to live in a time where communication is instant, and as such does not have to be terribly long.  Instead of thriving on what you don't have time for, know what time you do have and use it to better yourself and to let those around you know you care. Sometimes this involves saying "no" to something or working out for 45 minutes instead of an hour, and sometimes it means being 10 minutes late because you stayed in bed with cuddling cats or playing with a baby's feet.  Either way, it will make a tremendous difference to the people who care about you to know that they play a significant part in the music of your every day life.

In conclusion, in music and life, you can never really "keep" time.  Time is always moving, and even when you set a value and a beat to it, eventually the piece ends and everything that was played becomes a memory.  However you spend your time today, it can never happen exactly that same way again. When I make music I realize I am using the time to work and love simultaneously.  I work to make the piece beautiful and perfect, but I love to make the music in any capacity. I must learn to work effectively and love effectively in my daily life.  Even though we never truly know how much time we have, there is always time to learn. Happy Tuesday!

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