The time signature in a musical piece sets the rhythm – common time, three-quarter time, etc. It gives a frame for the notes, directions on how they work together in time, and keeps everyone singing and playing the various parts working together to transform dark spots on white paper into melody and harmony. It’s the touchpoint for improvisation, the place of reference for scat singing and jazz solos. When I dance, it directs my feet; it provides the when and how often for clapping.
It’s usually easy enough to find the rhythm that the time signature sets. But every so often, it isn’t so easy. I can’t quite find the underlying beat, and the pattern of the notes escapes me. Turning on the radio at the end of a song or during a guitar solo; a cappella chanting; some modern classical music that changes rhythm unexpectedly and often: these can throw me off, and it takes more than a few seconds to find my way in the piece. I have to wait until I can feel the structure and pattern in the music. It’s unsettling.
My spiritual life feels that way sometimes. The time signature changes throughout my life, and it throws me off until I find the rhythm; I’ve tuned in somewhere in the middle instead of at the start (more honestly, I tuned out for the beginning part!); someone’s offering a riff on faith, and I miss its connection to the standard version.
Finding the rhythm of the Spirit may take some time, and I may not catch on as quickly as I’d like – I may even clap in the wrong places. But given time and a little patience, I’ll find my place in the music. I may appreciate the time signature all the more for having missed it.
[The Book of Love, Shall We Dance?, Peter Gabriel, 2004]