Fiction. Based on a True Timepiece.
By McKenna Themm
This journal entry is inspired by true events. Some of the characters, names, businesses, incidents, and certain locations and events have been fictionalized for dramatic purposes. Any similarity to the name, character or history of any person is entirely coincidental and unintentional.
“Human beings interact with the world in tangible and intangible ways.”
Human beings interact with the world in tangible and intangible ways. We touch the world through concepts and attempt to write them all down and understand everything. We measure time and space with watches and yardsticks, as if metal cogs and 36 inches of wood could concisely explain that which comprises the matter of existence. Time, particularly, is an interesting concept. In its most basic form, the measurement of time comes from the sun moving across the sky, spreading shadows. A sundial is placed on a flat surface and its gnomon points to True North—or the Northern Star. When the sun passes by, it casts a shadow upon a line marked with a certain hour.
Great natural clocks, such as sundials, are minimized into mechanical clocks we wear upon our wrists. Throughout the day and night, we periodically check our small timepieces. Sometimes, we sigh in exasperation—time seems to be moving rather slowly; we’d rather be somewhere else. Other times, we do a double take as we glance down at our watches—how did so much time get away from us? Regardless of our reactions to the time, we usually do not fully consider the weight of the time that is passing.
We clock in and clock out. We get used to our schedules. Days pass. Months go by. We forget the significance of the seconds and minutes that silently tick by.
Time is an elaborate and complicated concept. It is the standard by which we measure hours and days, but also is the standard by which we measure musicality. Common time in music is 4/4. It means that there are four beats in a measure and a quarter note receives one beat. Tempos in music are measured in bpm—or beats per minute. A standard bpm is 120, which means there is a beat each 0.5 seconds. A bpm of 120 is on the faster side of the spectrum; tempos range from about 20 bpm to 180 bpm.
Music is one of the biggest aspects of my life. I began playing my uncle’s piano when I was four years old and fell in love with the instrument. My parents put me in piano lessons when I was five, and I took lessons until I was thirteen. I think a lot about time when I am in musical environments. I’ve never been fantastic at keeping time when playing the piano. I preferred playing solo piano for a long time, since I could never stick to a consistent rhythm.
When I stopped taking lessons, I started playing with a band. I wasn’t an experienced keyboardist, but I appreciated the social aspect. I felt mature playing alongside professional guitarists, singers, and drummers. At first, I couldn’t stay on beat with the rest of the musicians. I used earphones and needed a metronome in my ears in order to stay on tempo with everyone else. Even then, I usually fell out of tempo. I didn’t grow up listening to a lot of rock music; I mostly listened to classical and orchestral music. Due to this, I wasn’t really used to drums or bass. It took me a long time to learn how to recognize the beat of the bassist and match my beat to his.
During the time I started playing with a band, I also started teaching my own piano lessons. I only taught three young children, but it thrilled me all the same. I taught them how to find keys on the piano and read notes on sheet music. I taught them to play songs, practice technique, and understand theory. Eventually, people started telling their friends and family about my piano lessons, and I gained more students. At one point, I had twelve students each week. When I realized I was actually a piano teacher, I started putting on my own mini recitals for my students to show off their songs to parents and friends. Some of my proudest moments consist of watching my students perform their songs.
It has been about six years since I started teaching piano and playing with a band. I have played with over a dozen bands now, from small gigs to conferences, and from nonprofit fundraisers to concerts. I also have stepped into a position as a professional piano teacher. My lessons with students are thirty minutes each week, and we go over many different aspects of playing piano. To utilize the time in our sessions as best as I can, I wear a watch to my lessons.
A few weeks ago, I was in a lesson with one of my students. She was keeping time perfectly for her song. I smiled, remembering how hard it was for me to keep perfect time at her age. I looked down at my watch to check how much longer we had for her lesson. It read 12:38. I looked back up to the piano. 12:38? I clocked in at 3:30. I looked back down. My watch was frozen. The second hand wasn’t ticking. My initial reaction was annoyance, since I wouldn’t know when I was supposed to wrap up her lesson and start the next lesson.
Since my watch has been broken, I haven’t really known the exact time to start and end my piano lessons. I can glance at clocks outside the room to gauge time, but it isn’t perfect. At first it was irritating, but now I’m almost thankful for my broken watch. I’ve been able to enter into lessons more, because for once, I’m more concerned with the sound of the music around me than I am with how much longer the lesson will be.
Human beings engage with the world in tangible and intangible ways. When we rely too much on the tangible measurements, we miss the beauty of the intangible. I’m not saying we should all be irresponsible and never know what time it is. However, I do think that every once in a while, it’s alright to have a broken watch, and just enjoy the world around us, without worrying about the time that is passing.