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Hallo again to all.

Several seemingly-unrelated events came together to shape our thoughts this week.

We recall, a long time ago, a conversation between two middle-aged women: 'My son has decided that he wants to become a priest.' 'Oh. How nice. I didn't realize he could sing.'

More recently, an acquaintance who is renowned for her cooking skills mentioned mournfully that she hardly ever cooked any more: 'Cooking is a performance art, and I no longer have access to an audience.'

Not so long ago, we attended Sunday worship in an Anglican church whose attendance and budget are noticeably dwindling. We were utterly dazzled by the quality and holiness of the music. There were half a dozen choristers, an organist, and a utility player who variously directed the choir, played piano or alto saxophone, or sang countertenor. Space in the choir to hold 40 musicians, a nice pipe organ, a well-maintained Steingraeber piano, and stained-glass windows by Gabriel Loire reminded us that this parish was once wealthy. The service music performance was of a quality we didn't expect to find in that little church.

For us, numinous music is a vital part of worship. A spoken service has its place, but if our primary Sunday Mass experience is entirely spoken, we confess to feeling afterwards as though something is missing inside.

For many musicians we know, an audience is a vital part of music performance. Performing in a big and well-attended church, performing at Royal Albert Hall, or performing at the Greenbelt Festival are qualitatively different from performing for your parents, for a half-dozen friends, or in an audition. Many popular musicians sound very different when they are recording in a studio or recording in front of a live audience.

Musicians vary in the degree to which they have an emotional need for an audience. Some are content to play in an empty room, enjoying the process of making music (Sherlock Holmes playing his violin comes to mind). Others reach out to perform in secular venues large or small. Church organists can be found on the playbills at concert halls. Choristers often participate in secular singing groups (though the reasons are more likely to be economic than artistic; no one can make a living as a church chorister.) Because the notion is widespread that music is intrinsic to worship, we have come across church organists with overdeveloped egos, each sincerely believing that they are the primary reason for large attendance at that church. But then we remember Giovanni, the aging juggler in Tomi de Paola's The Clown of God. With advancing age, his skills diminished and he lost his appreciative audiences, but ultimately figured out that Christ was the only audience he needed, and that his performance brought joy to the baby Jesus.

Last week at our own church we returned in late afternoon for a meeting, and noticed that our young and talented organist was playing the organ 'with all the stops out'. Thinking that there might be a concert that we didn't know about, we opened the door to the narthex and tiptoed into the nave, only to discover that the organist was alone in there, hunched over the console playing energetically. We at first thought 'Oh. Practicing.' But as we watched and listened, invisible, we realized that this was a full-blown performance, with God as the entire audience. You could think that performing for God was a form of rehearsal, but if you had watched and listened for a minute or two, you would realize you were wrong. The music was 'Prelude and Fugue in E minor "Wedge" by Johann Sebastian Bach', and it was obviously a performance for God. We felt privileged to be able to eavesdrop for a few minutes, but thought it best that we leave the two of them alone as the sun set behind the stained glass windows.

See you next week.

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29 May 2016


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