This morning I began enmeshed in the density of Johannes Brams's Fugue in A-flat minor (that's the key with seven flats -- ALL of the the flats). It seemed, in it's quietly seething opacity, to be the perfect piece of music for the day. It served as the prelude to the noon preaching service at the Parish where I serve.
The Rev. Brian McLaren, the preacher at these services for the first three weekdays of Holy Week, preached a beautiful sermon about re-imagining the model of what it means to be human and how that relates to our faith. He preached that the old "ghost in the machine" model doesn't really have much relevance to us, and that instead, we are creatures imbued with and hungry for meaning.
("What is truth?," Pilate asked?)
We are, McLaren said, "sponges" for meaning. We are created from the Word (as is everything in the first creation story in Genesis). Words give meaning. And of course, in Poetry we see a heightened level of meaning. And he even made reference to last night's Poetry and Music meditations, calling the event "a baptism in meaning".
The day then slid toward a full choir rehearsal, and entailed some devotions before the copy machine, etc.
I tried to get a haircut partway through this, but alas, the building where my barber does his work was surrounded by fire apparati. There was a burning smell, and some light traces of smoke were visible. Something had been or was still on fire.
There was something fitting about this, of course: lots of red, the fire, the smoke, an assembly gathered outside, waiting to go in.
It's Holy Week again.
And so, I returned to the keyboard (the Qwerty one, this time), shaggy as ever, and replied to an email from a budding composer in the parish.
On the advice of Vincent Persichetti's Harmony, which I find sort of interesting as a place to start thinking about the subject, I pointed him toward The "Mysterious Mountain" Symphony by Alan Hovahness. He said he listened to it, and I shot him back quick reply about themes, and "melodies", and how you need a couple of them to make Sonata Form -- all the gibberish that we couch the wonderful world of music in. Or maybe we just do that because we're seeking meaning from the whole thing.
What does music mean?
And then the rehearsal flew in like a Mack truck, and it was glorious -- except that I completely forgot to rehearse that wonderful six-voice Tudor motet that we're singing on Easter Day. It's okay. The choir will never know. I'll just rehearse it with them the next time I see them (which is basically every day this week, right?), and act like that was the plan all along.
And then I found myself tidying up here and there. The odd bit of organ part that I never really fleshed out for my new arrangement of such and such, and how do we end that service, and does the officiant need a pen light so that she can see the concluding collect?
And then tidying up led into full-on practice in a way that I didn't quite manage earlier. I threw myself into another dense score, one that has it's roots in improvisation, and one that I probably have no business playing -- at least not this year.
But the score is so meaningful, at least to me, and even if I miss a few notes here and there, won't it still mean just as much?
What do people listen to when they hear music in this place?
Do people listen?
Who knows. And then, in the car on the way home, Holy Week reared it's head again. There on the radio, as if it knew I had been talking about it, was "Mysterious Mountain". And now it was my turn to listen because it's a great piece for a young composer to hear, but it's also a great piece for me to hear. I had forgotten all that that celesta part does. It is mystery. The celesta plays what cannot be explained. It's the emptiness of the church late at night when everyone has gone. It's the grace to sing Byrd tomorrow, or the next day. It's the impromptu Holy Week gathering outside your barber shop.
It's the joy and question that is this life.
It is the song that is sung all around us and the meaning that we seek.
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