The Right Tempo - 1

Here is a subject of the greatest importance to all charged with the interpretation of music, both soloists and conductors. When the technical demands of a composition have been met - the difficult phrases mastered, the dynamics balanced and blended, the spirit of the music apprehended; when even nuances have been planned and rehearsed (in so far as one can do so), there still remains the problem of pace or tempo, which can finally make or mar a performance. 

    It is not unusual to hear playing which, almost faultless in every other respect, fails to carry one’s judgement because it is either slow and labored, or hurried and ‘nervy.’ Asked his opinion of such performances, the listener can only say - ‘It was very good, but…!’ His judgement is not carried, however much he admires the technique of the band, because the music does not speak at the right pace. 

    We all know how ordinary conversation can be trying under similar circumstances. the too-slow speaker unwisely allows us to be a jump or two ahead of him all the time - we know what he is going to say, but we have to await his time. The too-rapid speaker races on, leaving us with but a jumbled impression of what he wants to express. In both there is a lack of poise, of ‘flow,’ of a proper sense of values. 

    Of course, the ‘gift of the gab’ is not given to everyone. The art of conversation, we are told, is likely to be dying in these days of mechanical entertainment, of evenings of silence spent before the television set. This, if it is true, is a very sad state of affairs; and as to music making, something of the same might conceivably happen. The supposed necessity of ‘timing’ compositions, of ironing out details in order to ‘balance’ before microphones, is likely to tempt conductors to sacrifice the flair and brilliance that often comes on the inspiration of the moment.

Printed with kind permission from The British Bandsman.

Posted on November 10, 2015 .