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My Cosmic Whole Note

March 16, 2020 (transferred from WordPress)


I think this would describe every university student experiencing the effects of the coronavirus! It has certainly been a change of pace- going from juggling school, teaching and gigs to having an abrupt and massive break upon us. If you are in anyway a procrastinator like me, then I think we need to take a moment to reconcile with this ambiguous cloud of time that lacks structure, deadlines and goals.

Are you familiar with the eurhythmics exercise of the ‘cosmic whole note’? The teacher puts on an extremely slow pulse (maybe around 4 bpm,) and the student has to find a way to clap with the beat. That’s what this break feels like: a ‘cosmic whole note’ that at some point may clap back into ‘normality’ again. Anyways, this post is an attempt to not just blindly fall into this cosmic cloudy abyss of a break.

The key to overcoming the ‘cosmic whole note’ is acknowledging how it changes our perception of time. Our perception of time is often more powerful than time itself, for it defines time to us, which in turn effects our mental state.

  • For instance; if I feel there is not enough time, I am prone to anxiety. If there is too much time than I tend to feel purposeless and depressed.

This same principal applies to music as well, as the way we perceive pulse effects our music.

  • Some musicians think of pulse as a fixed structure that all the notes must be crammed inside. The conductor’s baton acts as a knife that cuts out pillars of beats that the music must fit into. When a passage of fast notes is about to arise, the musician may feel anxious to ‘rush’ them within the confines of these pillars.

  • On the flip side, other musicians refuse to acknowledge time or are oblivious to it. They may play without consistency of pulse, making incomprehensible and rambling music that lacks purpose.

So how then can we conceptualize time in a way that we are neither subject to it nor ignore it? Here are some of the ideas that have been rather influential to me.

1.) Our perception of time’s structure is based on sound (or moments) I remember sitting in a world rhythms class while my awesome (and rather trippy) teacher, Jamey Haddad gave the class a short introduction about rhythm and time. He didn’t say much, but rather pointed to various parts of the room making sounds. He concluded by explaining that there was one note in space and then another and then another…(I promise, this experience was even odder than it sounds!!) Anyways, his point was that the collective sounds created our sense of time

  • This applies in life outside of music as well. While the clock ticks on, we experience and reference our life through different moments.

2.) Consequently, as the musician creates the sound they in turn dictate time It was a snowy Cleveland day and I was playing excerpts for my friend. After I finished rushing through my Mendelssohn Scherzo (no surprise there!!) he said, “you create the rhythm and time.” It seems incredibly obvious, but this radically shifted my idea of time! It went from being an external structure to an internal creation. You create it, you dictate it and must convince your listener of it. Side rant: METRONOMES. I love metronomes so much, because they are rigidly consistent and therefore a great learning tool! But if it turns into a stunt, it results in a musician’s lack of ownership of pulse and rhythm. More on this another time..

  • It seems like we are taught from a young age to fit our life within different structures. Deadlines, tests, performances etc., and it’s easy to let the structure define our life. But instead, we can decide to let the growth between (and through) the structures pull us forward. If the structures disappear, no need to panic- you can create, grow and decide on the next moments.

3.) In order to manipulate time we need to understand and acknowledge it There are certain performers that I find to be incredibly engaging, and it’s due to their manipulation of time. As I’m learning now, in order to manipulate time well, we first need to understand it (hence the value of a metronome,) then acknowledge and appreciate it. Without understanding it, manipulation of time cannot be organic…we need consistency that can be danced around.

  • (2nd mvmt, 11:20).                                I love slow movements, and also find them to be the most challenging. If you listen to this recording of Yo-yo Ma playing the second movement of Schubert’s Arpeggione, you may notice that the notes change at a rather slow pace, yet it is far from static. For Yo-yo is appreciating every bit of time by using it to develop the musical line. 

  • Just thinking about the concept of rubato (the ‘robbing’ of time,) if you rob time somewhere you must make up for it so that you arrive at the big beat on time. As it isn’t perfectly even within every the beat, you can only appreciate the rushing and relaxing if you feel it’s rub against the smaller subdivision.

    • In order to ‘manipulate’ our time in life we need to see it clearly. If we feel trapped by a crunch of time then we need to zoom out and feel the bigger beat. Or on the other hand, instead of letting the time push on like a static slow movement, appreciate the smaller subdivisions and rush/relax as they go by.

Back to this cosmic whole note of a break. So how do we adjust to our unexpected shift of time perception? First, just decide that it is the perfect amount of time. You have just enough to accomplish what you want (and not too little and not an excessive surplus!) Then-

Subdivide, subdivide, subdivide. I’m grateful that the one and only, Larry Rachleff pounded this into my soul! That’s the secret of the cosmic whole note: pick some sort of subdivision for yourself and stick to it.

I think that’s the key for getting through the abyss of this break as well. However best suits your personality, subdivide the break in an effective way! That may be by setting goals by the hour, the day or the week. Whatever works so that you can appreciate the time go by.

(If, for whatever reason you are a bit crazy like me and are simultaneously anxious while being a ridiculous procrastinator, you can join me in making insane goals of the smallest subdivisions to appease the anxious mind with the expectation that I will enjoy breaking most of those with the rubato of the day.)

Anyways, obviously there is no perfect way for using time, but if we can address our perception of time, acknowledge it as it passes and possibly make some sort of subdivided plan, at the very least we will appreciate it in some way!?!

Have a nice (AND HEALTHY) time in the abyss!!!

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