WHEREAS PAINTERS WORK WITH SPACE—the croquet players on the lawn, behind them the dark foliage of the hedge, above them the sky—musicians work with time, as one note follows another note the way tock follows tick.

Music both asks us and also enables us to listen to certain qualities of time—to the grandeur of time, says Bach, to the poignance of time, says Mozart, to the swing and shimmer of time, says Debussy, or however else you choose to put into words the richness and complexity of what each of them is wordlessly "saying."

We learn from music how to listen to the music of our own time—one moment of our lives following another moment the way the violin passage follows the flute, the way the sound of foot-steps on the gravel follows the rustle of leaves in the wind, which follows the barking of a dog almost too far away to hear.

Music helps us to "keep time" in the sense of keeping us in touch with time, not just time as an ever-flowing stream that bears all of us away at last, but time also as a stream that every once in a while slows down and becomes transparent enough for us to see down to the streambed the way, at a wedding, say, or watching the sun rise, past, present, and future are so caught up in a single moment that we catch a glimpse of the mystery that, at its deepest place, time is timeless.

-Originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words

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