Ordinary Time, 2014
When men and women, and children, encounter the divine, when we meet face to face with God, when we find ourselves as it were banging up against holiness, we cannot keep from speaking, from singing, from proclaiming. Our lives are overwhelmed with the need to pray and praise, to lament and cry out, to protest and to question and to adore. And the word we use to describe all of that, is worship. Worship is why you are here. Worship is what cathedral choirs are for. Worship is what Christians do, and we need help and inspiration and the words to say when no words will come, and the harmonies that will lift us up or console us, or help us to deal with all the anger and frustration, all the adoration and wonder and all the bits in between – everything that bubbles up from the heart in that great outpouring of whatever it is that outpours when we recognise that God is here and we are here, and that we need to do something about it.
The Rev. Canon Tom Clammer, Precentor, Salisbury Cathedral. Sermon: "What is a choir for?". 20 July 2014.
I've been confronted this week with my deep poverty of imagination and understanding on the concept of "power" as it relates to art. Part of my deep frustration with the powerlessness of which I wrote a few days ago is that I don't rightly know what the concept means as related to art, music, church music, the church itself, etc.
“You can kill people with sound.”
And so it seems to us at the blog at Sinden.org that the time is right hold a colloquium on the questions of power and art, and explore how these concepts relate to music within the liturgy of the church.
The ever helpful Maria Popova gets us started on the value of arts
This is the power of art: The power to transcend our own self-interest, our solipsistic zoom-lens on life, and relate to the world and each other with more integrity, more curiosity, more wholeheartedness.
Wholeheartedness leads to thoughts of Brené Brown, and (artistic) vulnerability of which I expect we will have plenty to say later. Note that the title of her TED talk uses the P word: The Power of Vulnerability
Which leads us to think maybe the power of art as found in its vulnerability could really be thought of as "weakness". I'd love to unpack the paradox here, and I may later reach for a title by theologian Marva Dawn, Joy in our Weakness.
There are moments on this blog when "power", as it is connected to art, music, and the church, has already surfaced.
Here are a few:
“If we consider what sort of music we should want to hear on entering a church we should surely, in describing our ideal, say first of all that it must be something different from what is heard elsewhere; that it should be a sacred music devoted to its purpose, a music whose peace should still passion; whose dignity should strengthen our faith; whose unquestioned beauty should find a home in our hearts to cheer us in life and death. What a powerful good such music would have”.
“You can kill people with sound.”
It makes you appreciate the tremendous power of particularity. If your identity is formed by hard boundaries, if you come from a specific place, if you embody a distinct musical tradition, if your concerns are expressed through a specific paracosm, you are going to have more depth and definition than you are if you grew up in the far-flung networks of pluralism and eclecticism, surfing from one spot to the next, sampling one style then the next, your identity formed by soft boundaries, or none at all.
And these words of music critic Alex Ross, which find their way on to this blog for the first time:
“Art does not stand apart from reality; if it did, it would have no life in it, no light, no darkness, no power.”
"As If Music Could Do No Harm." The New Yorker, Cultural Comment Blog, 20 August 2014
“Art does not stand apart from reality; if it did, it would have … no power.”
As I look back over the ten year history of this blog (has it really been that long?) it seems that strands of this colloquium have been emerging for some time. I'm happy to try to collect these different strands into a more directed conversation. I am eager to see what emerges.
To bring this brief tour full circle for now, art, which Alex Ross so powerfully notes "does not stand apart from reality", has a peculiar kind of power. I believe this power is best explained by Thomas Merton summarizes when he says
“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”
I read with real disappointment "The Power List" in the Style Weekly periodical of Richmond, Va. In the Arts & Culture portion of the list not a single musician was listed, nor was any musical organization in this city named. Listed were philanthropists, Ballet board members, theaters, visual artists, non-profits -- one of whom wants to build a new baseball stadium, etc.
Does music really exercise no influence in the cultural life of this city? I suppose one shouldn't put too much stock into a list like this, but then none of the other Arts & Culture articles in this issue were about music or musicians either.
Whether or not we currently do, musicians should occupy a vital place in the cultural life of this city.
What's our role? What's our position? How can we fix this?
It was on my birthday, August 20, in 1994 that I first came to hear the "Blue Album" by Weezer, which I received as a gift that day.
I'm a strong believer in listening to new music, even that from another genre, so I have enjoyed what is now a twenty-year affinity for this quartet.
I have, in the intervening twenty years, purchased for myself further recordings of this modern, electric, american chamber music and enjoyed
Things have been quiet for a while, but I look forward to the release of Everything Will Be Alright in the End, which has an indescribably awesome internet-aware cover, on October 7, 2014.
I'm not sure if there are other "bands" that make "albums" like these, but I do find this stuff fascinating and worthy of study.
Those familiar with the list of Christmas carols commissioned annually by King's College Cambridge for their famous Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols will recognize the name of Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe. Sculthorpe's carol "The Birthday of Thy King" was sung at that service in 1988.
This is a great tribute by Andrew Ford (via Alex Ross)
Peter Sculthorpe, a composer in Australia | Inside Story
In orchestral works such as the Sun Music series (1965–69), Mangrove (1979), Earth Cry (1986), Kakadu (1988) and Memento mori (1993), Sculthorpe addressed a wide audience, communicating with them in a direct manner similar to the way in which Aaron Copland had addressed American audiences. However, there was a difference. At the height of Roosevelt's New Deal, Copland had deliberately set out to find an American style, assembling it from hoedowns and hymns. Sculthorpe, at least initially, was far less deliberate in his methods.
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