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Music: It's About Time.

INCHWORM, INCHWORM, MEASURING THE MARIGOLDS," SANG DANNY KAYE IN THE MOVIE HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN. "YOU AND YOUR ARITHMETIC, YOU'LL PROBABLY GO FAR...." EVEN NOW, IN MY CARTOONING MIND, I can see a little green worm in 3/4 time draw himself up almost double, then stretch himself forward his full length. One inch. Contract for two, release for two--measuring the marigolds. If the singer sings faster or slower, our wormy friend must draw his nether portion up and then extend more rapidly or more slowly. In a different tempo.

If Mr. Inchworm has friends, relatives, or accountants in the garden who are not exactly one inch long, then the length of the measures vary; they are not standardized. Since inchworms are a solitary lot, this absence of synchronicity matters not. In fact, it encourages improvisation, and worms with a twitch may easily affect syncopation (inching to a different drummer, so to speak). If they wanted to inch together, they might invite a versatile mocking-bird in magpie attire--black tie and tails--to conduct their days in the sun in chorus, beginning and ending on time and together.

But this issue isn't about inchworms; it is about counts and music measures. Unlike inchworms, we humans see the value of standardized measures: They foster reliable replication of a phrase and they make for easy togetherness. We are gregarious animals, and we enjoy social listening and dancing, but we like to all start and stop moving or playing at the same time. A chorus that counts together stays together, you might say, and we have established conventions in music and dance that make that so. When a conductor raises or lowers his or her baton, the musicians know it is time to start or stop playing. In many classes and folk traditions, a single note or chord precedes the first movement of the dance. A jazz dance captain will count five-six-seven-eight, and everyone knows to begin on the next count--one. When a drum major of a pipe-and-drum corps raises his baton to signal a stop, the drummers play boom-boom, boom-boom, drum roll, boom-boom, and not another march step is taken.

A pinch of salt, a bunch of onions, a little bit or a long time, "Wait a while," "One moment, please," are arbitrary measures, and one moment may last a lot longer for some than for others. The conventions and disciplines of music, however, provide a framework for instructors to teach and students to learn to count in a standard form using the time signatures and a lined score of music notes. We know how to set the tempo: A jazz captain will count five-six-seven-eight in the tempo he wants danced; a teacher will announce an allegro or adagio exercise or will count a-one and a-two before the accompanist joins in at that speed; and a tap dancer will hoof a couple of "time" steps before his trio joins in. We understand what to do because these conventions are part of our established and taught dance/music language forms.

I do not pretend to understand the subtleties and complexities that make that magic moment when the sound and movement are so exquisitely matched that the musicians and the dancers transcend their inchworm skins and become the music/dance. But Andrea Quinn does. This high-energy British mum of three youngsters joins the New York City Ballet as conductor this season (see story).

Similarly, Meredith Monk's vocal/movement language is less like the rock-and-roll formulas we hear every day and more like the music of the spheres with a touch of backyard magic. (This inchworm has clearly already metamorphosed.) Her current work with sculptor Ann Hamilton is filled with giant soap films, hidden cameras, and projections--and the rest is mystery until its debut this summer at the American Dance Festival (see story).

Dancing doesn't happen just because music is played. There is an intimate and enduring partnership between the two arts, though. Strict, true-tempo music is an excellent teaching-learning tool (and probably necessary for beginning dancers), whether its source is live or recorded (see stories). With practice--in time--many dancers and choreographers become improved beginners and some even technically perfect beginners. Only a few of the more advanced learners inch their way along the continuum to artistry, where the need to explore, improvise, and create work grows, and the shell of strict form may be discarded and the possibilities of living interaction explored. In such a space, for example, an exhausted Morris dancer may turn to look at his concertina player, deliberately slow his dancing, and the musician will follow him down in tempo. In such a space, an attuned ballet conductor may hold an entire orchestra at rest for a dancer's spectacular balance or breathing spell.

We thought it was about time for an issue of Dance Magazine to focus on the symbiosis between dance and music and what can happen when it all comes together. We grow by inches, but in time we grow.

Editor in Chief K.C. Patrick has worked for Dance Magazine, both in New York and California, since 1998. After dividing her time between the business worm and motherhood, she returned to the arts. She was editor of Dance Teacher Now, a position she held for ten years.
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Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:tempo and Dance Magazine
Author:PATRICK, K.C.
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2001
Words:876
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