Most people, including many musicians, believe (or assume) that the surest way to ruin a piece of music is to perform it too SLOWLY, letting it “drag”. In reality, RUSHING through it is usually a far worse crime; an excessively quick tempo tends to rob the music of all (or most) of its beauty and depth. In fact, a common complaint of composers throughout history is that, all too often, performers have tended to RACE through their music. At a more leisurely tempo, letting the music sing, the listener is able to take in more of the finer details of the composition and perceive a greater sense of depth and emotion in the work.
To prove this point to my students, I love to perform the following experiment (it gets them every time!): First, I sing the opening verse of a song they all know well (or at least they THINK they do!): MARY HAD A LITTLE LAMB. I sing it WAY too fast. Then I ask them to tell me what the song is about. All they can tell me is that it’s about a girl named Mary, who had a small, unusually white lamb. When pressed for more details, they are stumped.
Then, I sing the same song again; but this time, it’s the SLOWEST they have ever heard it, excruciatingly slow. Before I even finish, their mouths are agape, their eyes are wide open, and they say: “Wow! It’s about Jesus! I never knew that before.” And, of course, the ONLY reason that they had previously missed the deeper symbolic meaning of this simple little song, is that they had always heard it sung at such a brisk tempo that they had naturally assumed that it was just some trivial bit of nonsense, utterly devoid of any substance.
Upon hearing it ONCE at a slower tempo, they experience an epiphany, and have an entirely new way of looking at something with which they had once felt so familiar. It’s quite a revelation for them! Believe it or not, this experiment works just as well with adults as it does with children.
And it all has to do with tempo.
So, SLOW DOWN! And smell the roses!