Thursday, August 15, 2013

timekeeping: a tribute to high school

The metronome marks the jerks of life.
It pulses through the blue-gray halls, amplified by hefty speakers in the band room. It pounds across the flat football field, transforming into the thundering drums that echo down the hill and throughout town. 
Put, pot, put, pot. Increase the tempo.
The students, wrapped in blue-gray sweaters, migrate from class to class. They keep pace with the metronome, matching familiar footsteps. Put, pot, put, pot. The somber procession moves through the blue-gray halls.
The pulses cut their lives into tidy chunks - each activity corresponds to a put or a pot. Better finish within the allotted time. Rise, wash, dress, chew, think, chew, work, chew, work, sleep - next movement. How predictably one measure follows another!
The metronome and clock are kin, as safeguards of time and success. Coldly, they press forward. They do not lend themselves to the needy.
The blue-gray students walk to a variety of tempos: some set their metronomes to one pulse per hour. Others, the frenetic ones, prefer fifteen beats per second. Each sets the dial to a manageable beat.
Adagio appeals to the younger ones. Generous gaps between each pulse allow them to walk with rubato. Some eager beavers realize that their metronome-flouting days are numbered, so they rush through their measures, forgetting to phrase.
The metronome sneaks up on the juniors. For a while it had been gathering speed, but timekeeping hadn’t required such attention before. Now the pulses arrive with such velocity (or, in special instances, celerity) that juniors are tripping instead of walking. Blinking costs a beat. The catch-up period is dreadful - mostly graft. But that’s the only option on stage: keep playing!
One foot over the other - put pot put pot. The weary juniors jog through two semesters of etudes, building the endurance to survive all tempos.
When spring settles in, the metronome sleeps for the seniors. April fills the blue-gray halls with yellow and tan: light and bare legs. A dusting of pollen causes students sneeze in rapid succession (if a metronome could assign a tempo to the sneezes, what would it be)? There is time to wonder about useless things, like the tempo of successive sneezes. To gaze at things in wonder, and to create.
The metronome is silenced in June. This is a welcome pause from the marked jerks, until band camp rings in a new year:
"Managers! Fetch me the met!" requests the conductor as he stoops over a knot of black wire. The summoning of appropriate gadgetry and a full turn of the volume knob release the metronome.
In perfect time, the students draw their bows across the strings. Rosin clouds rise from the instruments, illumined by a streak of 10 A.M. sunlight from the doorway. One ear obeys the metronome, but the other is turned inward, to hear the heart. The resulting sound is the child of both ears.

They are contained, but free to express. The metronome jerks them to life.

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