Stopping in mid-air

A great explanation of the responsibilities of musical time.

Kile Smith | composer

[First published in the Broad Street Review, 19 Nov 2013, as “It’s all in the timing.”]

fermataWile E. Coyote falling off a cliff isn’t funny. Wile E. Coyote running off a cliff, stopping in mid-air, looking down, looking at you, and then falling—now, that’s funny.

Comedy is all about timing. So is music.

Since timing is so crucial, you’d think that music notation—the composer’s language—would be accurate. But notation isn’t as precise as you’d think. It doesn’t speak so much as it hints, points, glances. It does very well relating elements to each other, but all those arcs, lines, and dots plotted on music paper, all the pictographs precisely drawn, and all the foreign terms spelled out, can’t cover the fact that making music is an inexact occupation.

The fermata exemplifies this perfectly. It’s the “bird’s eye” over a note to tell the performer to hold that note…

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