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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Rubato by John von Daler

             Symmetry leaves me cold, with the
possible exception of Michelangelo's free-hand drawing of a perfect circle.

              When I was a boy, my father, the accountant, 
noted with freshly sharpened pencils on light green, once-folded spreadsheets every last penny we earned, used or misused. At the end of each month plus and minus stood guard like identical lions outside the gate to our future.   
              We kids created our own symmetry by dressing for conformity, clothing ourselves from an early age as scouts, baseball players, school students, or our favorite television characters.
               Learning to play the piano I soon learned
that here too uniformity ruled. Metronomes and
time signatures guaranteed the regularity of even the most wild music.
              There was one exception: rubato, a sudden change in rhythm, a putting on of the brakes, a lingering at some favorite musical spot to savor the moment. Gypsies used it effectfully.
              But even here my teachers scowled and
admonished: What you have taken out of the
tempo in one measure, you must pay back in the following!
               Later on in life, listening to gypsies play,
I used to try to imagine their huge, unpaid debts
all noted in the great musical accounting room:
one measure of four, slowed down provocatively,
lost in a flourish, never returned. Penalty: two
tarantellas to be played in the dark.
              When I used to perform on the violin, I often hung back from the beat. Now, after I have quit playing the violin and have grown older, my
own time debts are mounting up. I dally more
and more and I never, ever pay back. The other
day I sat on a bench in the sun for no reason
              God knows what rubato accounts I may owe.

My book, Pieces: A Life in Eight Movements and a Prelude (WiDo Publishing) is now available. Order through, the publisher or your local bookstore. Click to buy Pieces at the top of the blog. Please feel free to write a short review of the book in your own language at or GoodReads. Thanks for your support!

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