Colla Voce – Follow the voice. A directive to the musican (normally accompanist) to perform the indicated passage in a free manner following the tempo and style of the solo performer.
When I was a college student, I used to have arguments with a faculty member about tempo. It was less of an argument and more like good-natured teasing, but he would always say something along the lines of "You young people, you want to sing everything fast, fast, fast." I would give him a look best interpreted as "damn right" and proceed to leave him in a musical melismatic dust. I liked to sing fast. From a technical aspect, I knew I was spot-on. From a young, punk, bad-ass Soprano aspect, I knew it was impressive and intimidating. I didn't know it at the time, but I think the only person I was impressing was myself. And as for intimidation, I believe, in hindsight, it takes someone to care enough to be intimidated before that can happen, so most likely I was tilting at windmills.
Vocal music is an interesting beast. For me, whereas text and harmony speak directly to the heart, melody and rhythm speak to the head. What's interesting is that the tempo of a piece speaks to both. I am a firm believer that each musical composition has its own "natural" tempo where it all the elements fit together and work. Metronomes are not required. If you are sensitive to the natural tempo of a piece, you will feel it lock into place as if it were a puzzle piece. A correct tempo lets the melody, harmony and text work together as they were intended. Of course, this entire conversation excludes the wild and wonderful world of jazz, where all bets are refreshingly off.
Of the thousands of hours I have listened to music, the two things I am most judgemental about are pitch and tempo. Being out of tune will cause my eyebrows to skyrocket, my shoulder to twitch and my head to involuntarily flip around like a musical weathervane: down and to the left if it's flat, up and back if it's sharp. I don't know why. I just do it. Tempo, however is another story. Music that is much too slow causes every bone and muscle to cease functioning and I sink down into my chair, wimpering and whining like a baby. "Nooooo. Nooooooo. Pleaaaassssse. It's so sllllooooooow. HOW MUCH LONGER?!?" (Yes, hello issues with waiting. Nice to see you back again). Music that is too fast makes me twitchy and nervous. I keep looking around as if something is wrong, like maybe a FIRE. "Why? Why so fast? What's the rush? Do you have somewhere else to go or something else to do? If you cannot breathe or say the words, don't you understand that it's TOO FAST?!?"
Finding the natural rhythm of music takes time. There is definitely a learning curve and yes, I do believe some of that wisdom comes with age. Don't get me wrong. Fast is fabulous. Fast is exciting and refreshing and a little bit dangerous but in the end it is enormous fun. Fast is unbounded joy (albeit with some very cleverly disguised control). It's Champagne and fireworks and glittering jewels. If you got fast, you flaunt it, baby. No apologies. But slow I've grown to love. If fast is youth, then slow is the experience that comes with age. Slow is no longer boring and ponderous. Slow is more -- more peaceful, more sorrowful, more touching, more meaningful. Having the patience to hold the tempo back, to enjoy the moment, to let the harmonies mesh, to let the sound live in its space before fading away, to let the words gather together into a deeper meaning is rewarding in a way that fast can never be.
Today marks the thirtieth and final day of the annual National Blog Posting Month writing project. Before Novemeber 1st, it had been nearly six months since I had clicked the infamous publish post button. Ideas for posts came for a visit every now and again, but got pushed aside for any one of a number of other pressing (and not so pressing) matters. I knew I had the chops to write for 30 days in a row, but I wondered if it had been so long that I wouldn't be able to find the rhythm of the words, and the tempo that allowed them to work. I won't kid you: between job number one and job number two and a teenager involved in plays (plural) and concerts (many) and the daily soap opera that is high school (never-ending), it wasn't easy. Looking over the last twenty-nine posts, only six were completed before 11pm, and of the remaining twenty-three, more than half were posted in the last 15 minutes of the day. Although in the beginning I felt anxious and rushed, as the month wore on, I relaxed and eased into the writing process a bit more. Sometimes I sat down without a topic in mind. But instead of panicking, I would slow down and wait for the ideas and words and stories to catch up.
Now that November is over, what's next? I'm excited that Holidailies -- another month-long writing project that I've participated in for several years -- is going to ramp up again in about a week. Although it might be nice to take some time off in between writing projects, I think I won't. Six months was a long time to be gone, and I really and truly did miss this little corner of the Internet that I call my own. Now that I've settled into a tempo that works for me, I'm going to let it the rest work as it should. It's fast enough to keep me at it, but slow enough to allow me to sit and think and allow my thoughts to gather into a deeper meaning.
And I'm proud to say, at the downright civilized time of 9:20 PM, I've reached the 2009 NaBloPoMo finish line.