Saturday, August 16, 2008

Musical Olympians

Though there seems to be a world of difference between what athletes, particularly Olympian athletes, do and what practicing musicians do, we actually have a lot in common. Perhaps the main difference is that what musicians do is mostly enjoyed by the ear and what Olympic athletes do is mostly enjoyed by the eye. What musicians do, especially musicians who play "classical" music, is to line up pre-designated patterns of notes, rhythms, and dynamics, and perform them in a meaningful way. What athletes do is to line up pre-designated motions, and perform them in a way that creates the most speed and the most power with the least amount of physical effort, allowing the physical effort that they use to be the thing that lets them excel and break speed records. Musicians, especially string players, use their fingers, arms, and hands to try to do the same thing. We don't propel our bodies anywhere, but we do use a similar approach to the physical aspects of playing, particularly when it comes to form and efficiency of motion.

Rhythm plays a great part in athletics, as does phrasing. Measuring out the length of a course or of a pool and knowing how to divide up the ultimate time you are going for as a swimmer or as a runner, is a kind of phrasing. Rhythm is of vital importance to gymnastics and diving, particularly synchronized diving, where the pairs of divers communicate their initial tempo in a way that the "go" of 1, 2, 3, go is not cadential. The end of the complicated rhythmic phrase that they hold in their heads, which includes rhythms for all kinds of flips and twists, is their synchronized arrival in the water.

I feel that my daily hour or two (or maybe three) of Olympic viewing during this past week has been well spent. I am grateful that all I need to do is to control very small parts of my body in order to be able to do what I want to do. It is an awful lot easier (and an awful lot less dangerous) than flipping around in the air or on a set of high bars.

I really enjoy it when the gold medal winners at the Olympics are awarded by a rendition of the national anthem (as arranged by Peter Breiner) of their country, particularly when I see them sing along, or when I see their eyes well up with tears at the top of a phrase.

August 22 update: Wow!!!

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