So I’m staring at Holy Week and wondering how things will go. The response to my call for musicians to come and celebrate this week has been very small. Many people are out of town. One young man is playing in a different church in town. Others simply don’t respond. I’m trying not to care. The music will go well, I’m sure.
I once attended a lecture about some esoteric performance practices in the Baroque period. As I was walking away with my teacher, Ray Ferguson, he was commenting how ironic it was that these kinds of controversy just don’t matter. In my heart, I knew he was right. One can play music in many ways. Ray taught me that the important thing was that you gave a convincing performance not it’s correctness. A valuable lesson.
Likewise, music at church, I think. So many ways to get from A to Z in church music. When I look at the New York Times sampling of music being played around at churches in New York, I am both encouraged and discouraged. Encouraged that I see pieces that I myself am doing and will do this week. Discouraged because I’m pretty sure that (in the words of the Bill Murray character in Stripes) “It just doesn’t matter” what I do, most of it probably makes little difference to the people in the room.
I’m pretty sure I will have a string trio for Maundy Thursday. I plan to keep trying to entice a non-choir instrumentalist for Good Friday. If I can’t get one, I have a choir member who has been bugging me to play the obbligato on the anthem. It’s hard to spare any singer with such a small group, but right now this musician is my back-up plan for Good Friday.
At the Vigil, I want to add a violin part to the Mozart Alleluia we are singing. It will sparkle. That should all fall together.
And in the end, I can pretty much do all of this stuff myself providing the choir shows up, which it will.
My blood pressure is up. Sooprise. Sooprise.
Being a musician in the 21st century in America is an odd thing for me. Celebrity has pretty much drowned out reality. My wife once told a sixth grade class she was teaching that her husband was a musician. They were impressed. They were sure I was rich.
Even in academia I find that perception trumps reality. If one has the right degree, schmoozes the right way, and conducts oneself with a certain circumspect yet unmistakable air, one is often assumed to be competent. Never mind if that is the case or not.
Oh well, excuse the early morning Sunday bitching. I still am very happy to be in close contact with great music. This morning I will close the service with a lovely Bach chorale prelude from the orgelbuchlein on Jesu, Meine Freude. We are closing with a hymn based on this tune (“Would You Share Christ’s Passion?”).
I’ll close with another bitter little but lovely quote from the late Adrienne Rich which seems a bit appropriate.
“For a mass audience in the United States is not an audience for a collectively generated idea, welded together by the power of that idea and by common debates about it. Mass audiences are created by promotion, by the marketing of excitements that take the place of ideas, of real collective debate, vision, or catharsis; serve only to isolate us in the littleness of our own lives—we become incoherent to each other.”
from “The Space for Poetry” in What is Found There by Adrienne Rich