Three Lessons from 32 Metronomes

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This metronome video came my way on Facebook recently. If you haven’t seen it, it is amazing and beautiful, not usually words I apply to metronomes. And as I watched the video a second time, I was struck by some powerful principles it illustrated, truths for all musicians and all non-musicians too.

Here is the link to whole page; it’s worth reading!

1. Flexibility allows for consensus. In the video, the movement of the platform allowed the metronomes to align. If they had been on a rigid base, they would never have arrived at a single tempo. Chamber musicians often talk about “arriving” at an interpretation or a tempo agreeable to all in the group. They arrive at this consensus through repetition and exploration, and most of all through being flexible in their ideas. Without flexibility and willingness to adapt, a consensus would not be possible.

2. Surrender of self-interest can create a greater good without losing anything.  Has this happened to you? You are playing in an orchestra, and one of the other players makes a mistake or changes something, and you made an instant adjustment? Perhaps you skipped a beat or slowed down to keep everyone together. In order for the metronomes to line up, they all make adjustments in their otherwise steady ticking. At the end of the video, each metronome is still ticking a steady beat. But by making adjustments along the way, they have created a beautiful synergy.

3. Agreement doesn’t require direction; it requires cooperation. These metronomes have no conductor. There is no one metronome telling the others what to do. Instead, they arrive at an agreement as members of a group. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have conductors. But I do think we all need to take responsibility to “play nicely with others.” Just as there is no “I” in “team,” so is there no “I” in “ensemble.” Fine ensemble performances require us to be responsible musicians, playing with our best efforts and respect for the group and the music itself.

What else do these metronomes tell you?

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