Friday, July 31, 2009

Change of Pace and Tempo


Hear how he clears the points o' Faith
Wi' rattlin' an' thumpin'!
Now meekly calm, now wild in wrath,
He's stampin' an' he's jumpin'.
—Robert Burns, Holy Fair.


The Latins have bequeathed to us a word that has no precise equivalent in our tongue, therefore we have accepted it, body unchanged—it is the word tempo, and means rate of movement, as measured by the time consumed in executing that movement.

Thus far its use has been largely limited to the vocal and musical arts, but it would not be surprising to hear tempo applied to more concrete matters, for it perfectly illustrates the real meaning of the word to say that an ox-cart moves in slow tempo, an express train in a fast tempo. Our guns that fire six hundred times a minute, shoot at a fast tempo; the old muzzle loader that required three minutes to load, shot at a slow tempo. Every musician understands this principle: it requires longer to sing a half note than it does an eighth note.

Now tempo is a tremendously important element in good platform work, for when a speaker delivers a whole address at very nearly the same rate of speed he is depriving himself of one of his chief means of emphasis and power. The baseball pitcher, the bowler in cricket, the tennis server, all know the value of change of pace—change of tempo—in delivering their ball, and so must the public speaker observe its power.

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