“with nothing but a story, and time” – Linda Hogan

As you learn and work on a piece of music the narrative flow becomes the driving force for an interpretation. Sometimes it takes a very long time to find the best way to deliver a passage. Yesterday I was playing one of my own pieces, a fairly easy one, and realized I was rushing into a section, that it needed to start more like coming into a turn while driving before speeding up. It seemed so obvious as this registered and now I have to figure out why it took so long to discover that basic notion.

A performer uses a metronome to increase the dependability of performance. The regular pulse keeps the brain focusing at a regular rate and this is a vital stage of skill development. It ensures that the fingerings can work and that one’s memory is secure. It can help ensure that we are over-competent as we learn the music at faster than necessary speeds.

It can also force one into habits that don’t suit the flow of the narrative. Musical time is magical, casting a spell over the listener who is transported to another world for the duration of the experience. The pacing of the narrative flow must be revealed at the rate that best suits the story.

I am reminded of something learned in a film scoring class: that a steady beat tends to take the viewer’s attention away from the images. You can use a beat – but sparingly.
Ironic that the same might be said of pure music, music that doesn’t accompany another medium, that too much pulse can get in the way of the music. I am reminded of the classical or common practice music that is constructed of four measure units and symmetrical sections. A successful interpretation will introduce surprises, such as tempo variations and carefully crafted dynamics. A balance between the expected and unexpected must be created.

I also think of Walter Murch and his film editing strategy: to edit whenever he blinks. Perhaps our visual attention needs this balance between the expected and surprise. Narrative has its own rhythm, and we must let it shine through. We reveal the story but just as important, find the best timing to let it unfold.

At one tim,e Nasrudin’s village was ruled by a warrior king and during this time no one was allowed to carry a knife or a weapon of any kind.
One day a soldier caught Nasrudin with a big knife and said, “You are not allowed to carry a knife!”
Nasrudin said that is was not really a knife, but a correction tool “I am a bookkeeper and it is used to scratch out the mistakes in my calculations.”
The soldier thought for a moment and then asked, “Why do you need such big correction tool?”
“ Well you see, the mistakes I make are quite large.”