Being away from this computer for two weeks has triggered a personal writing flood. So here is a bonus, impromptu diatribe inspired by my return from recent journeys halfway around the world: the time difference was exactly 12 hours. I ought to have the world’s worst case of jetlag, but apart from falling asleep during my co-op board meeting last night (which might have been completely unrelated), miraculously I don’t. By landing in the evening in both directions, I was tired enough after a long flight to fall asleep at the “proper” time in both time zones. And, ironically, I’ve found it easier to forget about the other place’s time with a 12-hour shift since 3:00 is actually still 3:00.
One of the most common things said about music is that it’s about time. Yet music’s relationship to time is rather amorphous, as anyone sitting with a stopwatch during a performance would attest. Two different live performances of the same score, even ones with the most meticulous metronome markings, rarely wind up having the same duration.
There is a vast difference between absolute time as measured by clocks and perceived time as felt by performers and listeners. This is why an exciting musical performance that lasts twenty minutes can feel like it has raced by in half that time and a dull one can feel like it’s gone on for over an hour. The magic of music is that, while it exists in time, it has the ability to bend time—at least psychologically.
But these days, there’s been a trend for some concerts—particularly in high profile venues—to mention the duration of each piece in their program notes. It seems a violation, if not a downright betrayal, of the impact music can and should have. Sure, I know, we’re all so busy. Some of us need to know if we’ll be able to catch the second set at that club after the concert; others need to be able to tell the babysitter what time they’ll be home. But surely presenters could offer an approximate total duration for a concert without giving away the goods for any of the specific pieces. Despite how much I love hearing music, I must confess that I’ve stared at my watch after being told how long a piece would be in advance. I could claim that checking the time can be a good way to chart the structural progress in a composition; but let’s face it, it’s a distraction.
In a way an affective performance of a piece of music is like dashing jetlag. But once you start putting up all those reminders of the time, you might run the risk of even the well-traveled listeners starting to fade out.