Back in the Swing

September 11, 2013, 3:01 PM · What does it mean, when all your metronomes stop ticking?

That's what happened to me over the last six months or so. First, my miniature Dr. Beat ran out of juice, then never came back to life after I gave it a new battery. This was the little, light, high-tech metronome I bought a few years ago for practicing orchestral excerpts. It was capable of dishing out some 350+ beats per minute, so that if I wanted to account for every single beat in the Mendelssohn Scherzo, I could. I viewed this metronome as an instrument of unusual, even slightly un-musical torture. I didn't miss it.

More distressing was when my beautiful wooden Wittner developed arrhythmia.


I love this old-fashioned metronome. It mesmerizes my students, who are fascinated by all its mechanical features: winding it, moving the weight up and down the stick to adjust the tempo, nudging it to begin, watching it oscillate. It even has an outrageously loud bell to mark measures, if you so desire.

Over time, the metronome went from a steady "tick-tock, tick-tock" to "tick…tock? tick…tock?" to "tick……tock????" To watch the way that stick wobbled and lost its way -- my metronome truly seemed sick. I stopped trying to use it, and it became a nice decoration and curiosity.

This didn't pose a major problem, because still I had my trusty Seiko metronome -- companion to me since high school. I'd accidentally dropped on the floor countless times -- maybe even flung across the room a few times in college. It had taken falls in which it burst open and completely spilled its guts. Yet it kept ticking, with great accuracy. That is, until a few weeks ago, when it stopped. No slow demise, just Boom! No beat. After such a long and robust life, I couldn't blame it.

Finally, I had no metronome, and that's not a tenable situation.

Wanting a quick solution, I went online and bought a cheap metronome, just a simple one with a dial. I had it for two weeks when I dropped it for the first time on my carpeted studio floor and it went silent. Though the light kept blinking, I could not cajole it into speaking again. Ever.

At this point, I started to wonder: what was going on, here? Was there a bigger meaning? What is the symbolism behind a broken metronome? I did some research: My "Feng Shui" book, which talks about the symbolism of various objects in a person's house, advises that having a working pendulum clock with as many moving parts as possible "adds rhythm to a space, making it easier to find your own rhythm." Hmm, does it follow that, if my pendulum stops, I've lost my rhythm? I leafed through my dream dictionary, another source specializing in the symbolism of various objects. "Clock with hands still = death," it said. DEATH?!

Okay, time to fix the frigging metronome problem.

First, I replaced the electronic metronome. I figured, if my old "Seiko" lasted 30 years, I'll stick with that brand. I got a very simple one with a dial, a light and an option to make the beat louder or quieter, higher or lower. Perfect!

Then, to fix my Wittner. (A new one is not cheap!) I was advised to seek a clock repairperson. The first three I called did not seem to understand why I'd be asking them about a metronome. One even said, "Does it have a battery?" Ah, clock stores sell batteries for watches and clocks.

Where's this guy when you need him?

Gepetto in his workshop

I tried one more number, and bingo! I found him. I drove out to Cal's Jewelers, where I met Eddie, who is a man who knows his craft. Before I knew it, he was disassembling my metronome, shouting out to me from a back room, "Good news, aluminum parts! They won't rust. Just needs a little oil."

In minutes, he brought me a working metronome.

"Oh my goodness!" I said. "What do I owe you?"


Thank you for your time, Eddie. And for giving me back mine!


September 12, 2013 at 01:52 AM · It's great when you can find somebody to actually fix something...especially when they ask for no money in return ! But now you have to pass the favour on by helping out somebody with their violin problems.

I find it most unusual that everything stopped working at once but that does happen sometimes and it usually means nothing. It is why we have the word ''coincidence'' in the dictionary.

September 12, 2013 at 10:26 PM · Brian, I'm all over that idea of helping someone with their violin problems, lol! And you are quite right, I think perhaps it's a "coincidence"; that's the best way to view such things. Besides, I had a lot of fun getting them fixed and replaced!

September 13, 2013 at 03:39 AM · You are right, it's full of symbolism... I am happy you got your time back! Just reminded me of my own story about a nice swiss watch I usually took off for orchestra performances because I don't like having anything on my wrist while playing. This time I forgot to leave this watch in a safe place, took it onstage and put it in the pocket of my concert pants.

Can you imagine my astonishment when after the concert my watch's hands did not just stop...they went BACKWARDS! Like counting the time back! I have never seen anything like that and I wondered if it had anything to do with the visit of the Thai prime minister that night - his security probably messed with some anti-bomb devices and my swiss watch responded :-)

I definitely saw it as a symbol of something. If the warranty had not covered it, maybe I should have asked the Thai prime-minister to give me a new one.

September 18, 2013 at 03:24 AM · Going back in time Mariam, now that is a trick! :)

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