Saturday, 21 November 2015


How we interact with the inevitable cornerstone of our universe that we call Time , has always fascinated me. (And it has been a long time since I posted in this blog, partly because the last few months have been a very busy time!) Time ticks along at the same rate everywhere on this planet, at least with the exception of the dilations caused by relative velocity or gravitation, neither of which create a meaningful difference to us treading the Earth's surface. And yet our perception of time is highly individual: time seems to be able to shift gears and take us by surprise at any moment!

Time is of course a cornerstone not only of our universe, but crucially in music and many other art forms. I have often thought when observing a great musician that out of all the subtle means we have at our disposal as artists, timing is probably the most subtle and powerful of them all. Not timing completely on its own perhaps, but timing combined with other creative tools. Timing in music is often misunderstood as meaning regularity, but in fact regularity is rather boring and that is exactly where timing comes into the equation; the slight prolongation of a beat to suggest hesitation or delaying a note by a small amount in order to create rhythmic accent. If in doubt, listen to a really great organist or harpsichordist (and there are not that many!) and observe them making an inherently inexpressive instrument sing and communicate - that's timing!

The various speeds of time are present in other ways in the life of a musician. We use vast quantities of time in practising our instruments, preparing repertoire and rehearsing. Sometimes we underestimate how long time we will need to properly digest and internalize a piece of music, and we often get carried away and lose track of time... time flies when you have fun. We certainly experience the opposite too - the grueling couple of hours before a concert locked away in a depressing concert hall dressing room (pictured below) when time appears to refuse to move at all! And finally perhaps the greatest paradox of all, the perception of time when on stage; when our senses need to be ultra alert time seems to move fast and slow all at once! Like watching a slow motion film at high speed - I still find it quite bewildering.

On a more general level, managing time in our lives seems to be quite an issue for many people, and perhaps the challenges involved are greater in our modern world than ever before. Arguably a lot of it boils down to having a choice of how to spend our time; until about a hundred years ago the majority of people would have had little choice of how to spend their time if they were keen to stay alive - work as hard as possible to grow food so as not to starve, sleep for the remainder of the time available.

Paradoxically, in my own life, I often find that I manage to get a lot more done during the periods in life when I find myself thinking "oh, if I could only find more time for all the things I would like to do" than the times when I don't have a lot of planned activities. Suffice to say, now is one of those latter periods...

There is clearly a lot to say on the subject of time, but this blog post has to end here so that I can go and finish dinner... on time!