Thursday, December 11, 2014

Rhythm Uncaged

The Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett broadcast on PBS was vaguely irritating, but I didn't know why. Her costuming was a little odd, given the period of the music they were singing. Bennett, after all, was there in his tux, as he would have been in the old days.

I walked into another room, away from the distracting visuals, and realized my irritation came from their non-duetness. They were singing from different rhythmic bases. Bennett was feeling the rhythm in his entire body. Gaga didn't feel the rhythm lower than 4 inches in her chest. Bennett was in the groove. Gaga was making shallow footprints in the sand. As a listener, I was having to switch back and forth physically, and began to lose the beat myself.

I took a few drumming lessons a couple of decades ago, but quit because I couldn't beat the drum and count out loud at the same time, as instructed. I was okay when I was yelling "1, 2, 3, 4." Not so bad with "1 and 2 and 3 and 4." But I fell apart at "1, ugh, and, ugh, 2, ugh, and, ugh . . ." I could beat the rhythm fine if I didn't have to count what I was doing. Counting is in the head; rhythm is in the body.

When we're breathing naturally, the lungs expand downward with the incoming air, compressing the guts against the pelvic diaphragm; then the guts press back to expel the carbon dioxide. In rhythm. The fluid of the central nervous system flows all the way down the spine and then back up around the head. In rhythm.

Watch a pre-toddler listening to music. They rock on their diapered bottoms and wave their arms in perfect rhythm. They're not musical prodigies, they're just being human. Still too young to think about music, they're feeling it in entire bodies.

Rhythm isn't a skill we need to be taught; rhythm is life that too often needs to be uncaged.  


  1. Rhythm. Your words help me understand why I have trouble with the metronome. It is mechanical and demanding. When it clicks, I tune out. I try to hear it with my ears, but the music is coming form somewhere else.
    Thanks, Carol. Love your website too!

  2. I've written somewhere about hearing a rock band that was even more unsettling than Lady Gaga. I could have set a metronome clicking and all 4 of the men would have had exactly the same beat. But they weren't playing "together" - that is, connecting with each other - and the result was like fingernails on the chalkboard.