Probably everyone would agree that, experientially, time is elastic – not at all constant. It rushes here, dawdles there, and is generally erratic.
While other senses are localized in the brain, time is woven into everything we perceive – it is ‘metasensory’, and rides on top of all the others. Perhaps this is part of the reason music-making – which is a way of shaping time – lights up so many portions of the brain.
One hallmark of time’s elasticity is the way it slows when danger threatens.
In such situations, people overestimate the passing of time by about 36%! Last April there was a fascinating article in the New Yorker about time and perception. The article mentioned that time and memory are tightly intertwined, and that one of the seats of emotion and memory is the amygdala. It goes into overdrive when something threatens and records every last detail of the experience.
So – how does this apply to us as performers?
What happens when our attention is heightened by such an expanded existence within time? After a bout of stage fright, I have often heard students complain that they didn’t even recognize their own sound, that they never sounded like that. I beg to differ – they just don’t listen with the same intensity when they practice.
One remedy – SLOW practice. With deliberate FOCUS. Give yourself the time to notice every last little thing…. And I mean slow. I remember reading that it took Rachmaninoff a full minute to get through one measure while practicing. That immediately ranks him as one of my heroes.