Time and Meaning

Apr 6, 2017

In music, time passes. But it mustn’t be without purpose or reasons: without . . . meaning. And that’s the point: Music can give meaning to time. If all the interwoven elements in a piece of music mean something—if they remind, reflect, comfort, inspire, or excite—then by definition the time it takes for them to do all that will mean something too.

When I played in the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., years ago, I used to have a little joke. Before we began a lengthy symphony, I’d turn to my colleague on stage and say, “See you in 45 minutes.” A piece of music must take a certain amount of time; there’s no way around it. But within that self-contained fragment of time, within that separate little world of music—if it’s good music—time can be spent, saved, arranged, and manipulated so that the passage of time makes sense; so that the time itself is meaningful.

This has been A Minute with Miles – a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.