Letters From A Devastated Artist (9)

“I got rhythm, I got music…Who could ask for anything more?” – George & Ira Gershwin

Dear Rhythm,

You’d think of all people I would get you. I’m a musician, an artist. 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4…but oh no, I seem called to march to the beat of a different drum. An irregular meter. A swaying, undisciplined stagger. A mess.

Music is “spirit, but spirit subject to the measurement of time,” wrote the German poet Heinrich Heine. George Gershwin wrote “I got rhythm” a century later. They were talking about the same thing.

Rhythm is the way music and life is organized and measured in time. It is the structuring according to sounds and silences of varying duration, and the forming of measured sounds and silences into patterns. The patterns fit in a framework of beats.

We think of our life as something that moves. Rhythm is what makes it move; it is the brush stroke with which life paints. And the patterns and combinations of rhythm determine how the brush (and thus the artist) moves through time, whether it flows or flourishes or dances, or whether it skips or staggers.

Rhythm is also a generic term used to refer to any measured pattern in either sound or movement. The various combinations of long and short sounds — dots and dashes — that make up the alphabet in Morse code, for example, are all “rhythms,” or “rhythmic figures,” even though they’re not music. Think, too, of the rhythms of speech, the rhythm of the waves, or the rhythm of a horse’s gallop.

“The body is a rhythm machine,” in the words of Mickey Hart, drummer of the Grateful Dead. We breathe in a rhythm, and our hearts beat in a rhythm. Our every physical movement, conscious or unconscious, creates a rhythm, implies a rhythm, or is governed by a rhythm. It should come as no surprise, then, that rhythm composes an essential element of an artist’s life. There can be rhythm without melody — think of a drumbeat — but no melody without rhythm, without some notes lasting longer than others.

Changing the tempo, however, does not change the rhythm, it just speeds it up or slows it down. Few artists and leaders grasp this crucial scientific law. For every moment in life, the artist must decide which rhythm, in the context of the tempo and in combination with the melody, will be the most effective, the most persuasive, the most beautiful. Rhythm has much to do with how moving our life ultimately will be.

You’d think of all people I would get it. The tempo, melody and even harmonies of life I do pretty well, but this rhythm thing…I just can’t quite get it organized and structured. And I pay the price.

I am finally coming to realize the patterns and discipline of the great artists have a direct correlation with what they accomplish on earth and the legacy they leave behind. Now, if only I could sing in time with Gershwin, “I’ve got…”



16 Responses to “Letters From A Devastated Artist (9)”

  1. Hearing or feeling the rhythm requires stillness, doesn't it? You have to listen for it. — Being quiet and being still are not the same thing. I could jokily say that I"m toast over anything that requires stillness to achieve. I don't do "still" well at all. I remember learning how to be still when I studied Tai Chi — the movements were slow, rhythmic and intentional; mastery of the technique required an ability to listen with your body and to focus. But I didn't want something so still, instead several women and I begged our instructor to teach us Shoalin — it was more powerful, stonger, and exciting. So he taught us Shaolin like we asked, and then matched us in a listening drill called Push Hands with the Tai Chi students — their stillness gave them the upperhand and they won most of those drills.

    So, if I am unable to keep rhythm in life, I can only ascertain that it is because I am choosing not to hear.

    I like this series… do I sense another book in the works? This would be great matched with your art to accompany it.

  2. Love it Randy! Made me smile as I read it. Being a musician (guitarist and percussionist) I get rhythm in music but often have to stop and listen in order to get the rhythm of life. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Isn't it wonderful Randy that the rhythms we play are indeed as varied as the songs themselves….for some the pace is slow and peaceful…others fast and dramatic…driving…..and yet others crescendo to a finale or decrescendo to a new song or mood….the rhythms not only support and carry the music, but the rhythm itself IS part of our music…

    • Ah, yes. It's ironic that we artists struggle with this more than our share.

  3. These posts have struck a chord with me, Randy! Rhythm for me was not really a topic I considered – growing up in a very conservative home/church environment. Rhythm is absolutely fascinating in that it sets the mood both in music and life for sure! I'm just thankful that you are bringing these conversations to the forefront for us artists!

  4. I don't got much rhythm–someone once called me a free spirit and I agree with her. I think I like variety and change too much to live a life in a rhytmatic way. Sometimes that's not beneficial–my principal thinks I need more rhythm, so I'm going outside my comfort zone and force myself to have a definite rhythym for the good of my students. But, as far as my writing goes, I'm not that consistent on the when and the how, but I do produce my best. So, Randy, I relate to you in this and want to encourage you that we need to be who we are because God will work everything out to our good!

    • Pat, I enjoy reading your replies to this series. You are very insightful and encouraging. I tend to fight rhythm or routines because they feel constraining. What do you teach?

      • I teach English to juniors and seniors in high school. They keep me on my toes, and I need to be more consistent in keeping them on their toes. I've already seen an improvement as I follow the advice of my administrators–they're helping me find my rhythm, at least in the classroom.

        • Great ages. I love Jr's and Seniors — that can be a really fun age to teach — until they get senioritis anyway. ;-D

          I'm presently a SAHM, teaching SS to women at my church and trying to start a new career. Rhythm is hard to find — I tend to get scattered without the structure of working outside the home.

    • Yes, Patricia, I think I don't got much rhythm because I didn't learn to dance as a child. :)

      • I did dance as a child–practically every time someone would visit us, my dad and I would perform for our guests. We danced a mean jitterbug. It's funny in that I was in sync with my dad when we danced, but my husband and I were out of sync, so we never danced much! Nevertheless, I still have a problem with rhythm, but I'm overcoming it.

  5. As a melodic percussionist rhythm has a physical feel to its rhythm for me….the mallets had to be held, found, accountable, positioned in order to touch the instrument at the appointed time. Organization is such a part of that rhythm that eludes me….minute details so important to me in some situations (my art, orchestration of events, projects) and so not perceived as worth my attention in others (consistent laundry duty, sweeping, preparing dry cleaning for taking in…) yet as I continue to grow and seek what makes the gifts I so love sharing shareable it is the very discipline to learning that the notes of my life must all be played…My rhythm complete when I am able to enjoy the gifts I possess without the chaos of not handling “life” in the other areas of my existence…that my very creativity is heightened when i give myself the gifts of calm, beauty in my surroundings, and reliability that the time I am taking is due to be taken because the rest is indeed handled consistently….
    ….this rhythm of life is as needed as the wheels that go round and round on my car….I can’t rely on only being together in 1 or 2 areas of my moving forward without it being an awkward, awful experience…it takes all four wheels turning smoothly to support the ride that allows me to comfortably be and arrive where I seek to be.


  1. Tweets that mention Letters From A Devastated Artist (9) | RANDY ELROD | Creating Culture | Influencing Influencers -- Topsy.com - April 6, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Randy Elrod. Randy Elrod said: Ever feel out of rhythm,out of sync?I have,that's why I wrote"Letters From A Devastated Artist;Dear Rhythm" http://ow.ly/1uYpM […]

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