Fermata: The Pause

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A fermata [ferˈmaːta] (also known as a hold, pause, colloquially a birdseye or cyclops eye, or as a grand pause when placed on a note or a rest) is a symbol of musical notation indicating that the note should be prolonged beyond its normal duration or note value would indicate.

Ringgggg.. “Hello, may I speak to Mr. X, please?” Operator: “May I put you on hold?” Music comes on for about 5 long minutes or worse, some ad tagline about the company keeps repeating. In life, things are more complicated. A young successful woman having a promising career got pregnant, has a baby, then everything is put on hold while she attends to the 24/7 role of being a mother. When does her career resume? Or will it even pick up where she left it?

In music, the fermata is much more than a rest. In a rest, there is a definite value where music stops for definite number of beats. In a fermata, how much longer it is held is up to the discretion of the performer or conductor. How much time to hold before the music continues is not fixed. When I go on vacation, I know the vacation ends in a week and work resumes after. How about when God puts me on hold for a ministry? Does the music stop? In a fermata, the note is sustained even when the next note is not to be played yet. There seems to be something going on in the music even while on hold.

This brings to mind, the story of the Israelites’ journey: 40 years in the wilderness led by God by a pillar of cloud during the day and pillar of fire at night. They set up camp or pack up depending on when the pillars settle or rise up. It was up to God how long He wanted to put the journey on hold. How did they know when to pack up again? They had to keep their eyes on the pillars. It is interesting that the sign of the fermata is like that of an eye, a reminder that the musician(s) whether choir or orchestra has to focus their attention on the conductor.

Where are you in your life now? Is there a fermata? Do you wish it would be a rest so you know when to move on? How are you holding? Are you struggling with the ‘longer than necessary’ stop? Are you sustaining the note? Sometimes God puts us on hold yet the music does not stop. We need to sustain the music before the fermata. The fermata is there to welcome a grander next phase of the music. Perhaps it might be a change of pace or a transition to another key? We just need to keep our ‘eyes’ on the Conductor. He knows the whole piece from the beginning to the end and every thing in between.

Lord, you are the Giver of life and Sustainer of all things. Your fermata is meant for our good so that music is made all the more majestic and the next beat, next note all the more glorious. Please shine Your light on me that my eyes will see your guiding hands, that I will be alert to the movement of your baton. I trust that You always make all music beautiful in Your perfect time. Amen

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