Rhythm in Life

Posted on September 28, 2011 by

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by Anthony Dean-HarrisSome months ago, I attended a musician’s master class officiated by jazz trumpeter Nicholas Payton. That Monday afternoon, Payton spoke of a great many things on listening to one another, the versatility of artistic voice, and self-judgment, but the notion that stuck with we most that day was the importance of timing. Payton said the most irritating trait someone could have is bad timing. He’s probably right.

When Payton said this, in its context, he meant this musically. The burden of keeping good time in a group of musicians isn’t the sole responsibility of the drummer; everyone in a band is expected to play off one another, no matter their roles and no matter the genre of music they are playing. If an individual, whether it’s a guitarist, keyboardist, or the one shaking the tambourine, has a bad sense of time, it creates confusion. Timing is important in music. It’s just as important in life.

It’s particularly difficult to hang around people with bad timing. These are the slow walkers on crowded sidewalks. These are the storytellers who forget their points. These are the folks who constantly look for affirmation for what they say because they aren’t attentive enough to the situation to know whether or not they received it in the first place. Folks with bad timing are people who are generally inattentive. They’re incapable of reading a situation in real time. Talking to these people is like holding a conversation with the buffering circle in a YouTube video but less interesting because YouTube videos are generally more entertaining (and people can’t turn into a game of Snake).

Timing is important. Those people we admire who move seamlessly through life, seemingly effortlessly solving problems at a moment’s notice, careening through traffic while never looking to be in any real danger, making all the perfect jokes at parties? Those are people with good timing. They can listen and feel out the world around them and accommodate themselves to provide what a situation requires at a given time. Folks with good timing are the ones we naturally gravitate towards. They make beautiful music out of existence. They exude their rhythm in their walk, in the pacing of their speech, in their habits at work, in how often they’ll have a drink at bars. Good timing is desirable, even if it isn’t always infectious. It’s possible to emulate, but only if one is attuned to it in the first place.

Good timing can be tuned but it can’t be taught. It can lead a crowd but it still must follow the moment. It takes charge but through submission to nature itself. Through music, through talk, through life itself, it is a crucial element in navigating the world. It’s how the Apostle Paul was all things to all people. It’s how one does as the Romans do if a traveler finds himself in Rome. It’s the easiest way to find contentment, because if someone can find the rhythm of the moment, it’s the fastest way he can find peace in any moment, for he can see everything for what it is and figure out how to react to it. It is to live one’s life as set to music; it is to live one’s life as if it were music.

Sometimes folks don’t get that, so sometimes it’s hard to be around people like that.

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