• musicalmusings

Fermata Phase

Updated: Jun 11, 2019



Have you ever heard the phrase, "being in a Fermata Phase?".....No? That's probably because I just made it up. Imagine playing in an orchestra or singing in a choir, and there is a part of the music where there is a fermata over a note, or a chord. A fermata is a symbol that means "hold this for as long as the conductor wants you to". So you're holding that note, and maybe your lips from blowing your trumpet are about to deflate. Maybe you feel like you are going to faint and really hoping that you don't breathe at the same time as your neighbor in the alto section. Maybe you are about to run out of bow on your violin. But the conductor is still holding that note. No end in sight. What do you do? Well, you wait. No matter how hard it is, no matter how badly you want the pause to end, you have to wait until the conductor decides that the adequate amount of time has passed for the audience to fully appreciate that beautiful harmonic (or atonal) chord. If it means tag teaming with your neighbor, taking snorkling lessons to expand your lung capacity, or faking it until you make it, that's up to you. And then....and then eventually the conductor will make that grand gesture to say, "Okay! It's over now!" Either the song is done, or you move on to the next section of the piece or cantata or what-have-you.


What's my point? My point is that in our lives we all go through Fermata Phases (I'm going through one myself!), where the Great Conductor in the Sky, or however you understand it, might put us "on hold" for a while. Until the chord has finally melded and pure harmony has been attained, or perhaps most of the choir was spot on, but the tenors kind of missed their note and they all eventually heard that one strong singer, and they all matched their pitch to his, or maybe the timpanist dropped her mallet and was a bit behind for the grand percussion sequence that was to have occurred while everyone else was fermata-ing (I also made that up), and the chord must be suspended until further notice. And that's just the way it is. The show must go on. But ultimately, every chorister or orchestra musician must trust the conductor. They must follow his leading and have faith that he knows how long is long enough to hold that note. It won't do much good to throw your horn down and stomp off the stage in a huff, or stop singing and close your mouth and sit down while the rest of the choir is still standing. We must trust the Grand Conductor to know when the best time is to end that note and move on. Who knows? Perhaps the next movement of the symphony is the best one!

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