Meters and measuring are fascinating. There is the parking meter, the thermometer, Iambic pentameter that we learned about in literature class and the odometer. With our fast paced everything is already done for us society, can you really imagine the average person sitting down and saying, you know, I think mercury suspended in a glass tube could be a good indicator of the rise and fall of temperature. Seriously? I’m glad someone with a lot more patience, persistence and curiosity than me was willing to figure it out.
The meter that fascinates me most of all is music. I once took an aerobics class at a health club. The leader drove me nuts. You had no sense of rhythm and music was just in the background for her. I couldn’t take her class anymore. I mentioned it to a coworker at the time who did some moonlighting teaching aerobics. She shook her head and declared she always used the eight count beat and utilized the 32 count phrase. I should have taken an aerobics class from her!
Have you taken a look lately at the beauty, symmetry and overall wonder of music lately? Just pick up a book on learning to play guitar or piano and you’ll learn fascinating patterns about chords, measures and so much more. My favorite way to explore music is with my hymnal. Come again? Yes, exploring the meters of music with my hymnal. Isn’t that boring? Absolutely not! Pick up a hymnal sometime and look at the back of the book, where all of those weird indexes are. They’re not so weird after all. You’ll see each hymn categorized by its meter and you’ll learn, hey there are patterns out there.
There is the Short Meter (188.8.131.52.), the Common Meter (184.108.40.206.) and the Long Meter (220.127.116.11.) just to name a few. Then there are others such as Short Meter with refrain, Common Meter Double, Long Meter with Alleluias and the list goes on and on. Want to have some fun and really freak somebody out (and you thought this would be boring)? Find a couple of songs you know that have the same meter and switch them around. For instance, both “Joy to the World” and “Amazing Grace” share Common Meter. Get the tune to Joy to the World in your mind, but sing the words to Amazing Grace. You will definitely get people doing a double take.
You may also find that meter begins to matter – that the God who declared that all things should be done decently and in order (see 1 Corinthians 14:40) has a plan even for music. I recently ran across an old hymn that drives me nuts. The meter is 18.104.22.168.7.7. While there are other hymns that share this meter, the one I ran across left me leaning to one side and tilting my head in agony, waiting for the final beat that never comes. I’ve decided this particular hymn would have been better written (for me) as 22.214.171.124.7.9.
Take a moment and be connected to the beautiful gift of music that God has given us. Appreciate all over again the simplicity of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Find it fascinating that many people found similar meters and patterns in the beginning of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera – Overture,” and the popular Christian praise chorus, “You Are My Hiding Place.” Be awed by the fact that a brilliant tympanist is deaf, but Evelyn Glennie feels the music and keeps in time and plays beautiful solos. Pause and reflect on this for a moment – there is no scientific reason for music. There is simply beauty to enjoy.