I’ve always liked to believe that there is a generous bandwidth of tempos in which my music can communicate successfully. That may or may not be true, but there are few things more annoying than ending up with a recording that sounds a hair too fast or a hair too slow. Don’t let them play more than two notes in the recording session at the wrong tempo — stop them immediately – because a take in the wrong tempo is unusable, regardless of how beautiful it may be in every other way. Conversely, if a take is in the right tempo, even if it has other problems, the recording engineer may be able to use some of it.
And that reminds me of the most excruciating performance of a piece of mine I’ve ever experienced – or almost experienced. I was a guest at a new music festival put on at a well-regarded university I had never been to before. I arrived for the dress rehearsal, which took place immediately before the performance. As I walked through the backstage area, I could hear the musicians rehearsing, but because of the labyrinthic design of the school I couldn’t find them.
They were playing my piece at exactly half tempo.
In a frenzied state, I ran up and down the hallways, opening every door, trying to figure out where they were. Then I heard them stop. The performance began a few minutes later.
I couldn’t bring myself to go into the concert hall. I left the building as quickly as I could, headed to the closest bar and got myself good and drunk.
What did I learn? At half tempo, not only is every moment in the piece in the wrong place — every wrong note lasts twice as long.
But that was a long time ago. Back to more pleasant, recent experiences.