Who’s the music for?

This afternoon had the opportunity to listen to the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony concert that included a wonderful performance of Holst’s The Planets. The orchestra was full and often thrilling in its playing. But I also left with a certain sadness, it was a concert that indirectly conveyed the continuing hit the arts have taken in our schools.

As was clear in the program, these high performing student comes from a rather restricted background: a few elite public schools, Christian schools, or home schools. Music that should be the common inheritance of all is instead nurtured only in a few schools or programs. This was most evident in the Classical Symphony (their training program) where most students were out of home schooled environments. While a host of benefits belong to learning and mastering a musical instrument, such work is now the area of a committed few. And as the Youth Symphony revealed, most often not in a public (or charter) setting. Directly or not, we’ve privatized out our music.

Not surprisingly, a privatized music is sociologically narrow, even (dare we say it) mono-chromatic. That’s not the students’ fault, or the organization’s, rather it points to conditions in our society, the audible disconnect with our communities. Much as I love the kids I know at Christian school kids, or the students it work with at City, what I long for is a different ensemble. Something Sphinx-inspired, music that frankly has a little more color in it.

I’m thinking we would all be better for it.

Embodied art

Alan Jacobs writes of a Ray Davies of the Kinks and his nostalgia for the shared musical life with his sister Rene

Oklahoma!might show you some of the shortcomings of your world, but it didn’t necessarily make you hate it. There was a way to bring those distant beauties into your everyday life.
But perhaps this can only be done if you’re a creator and performer as well as a consumer. Davies’s sister Rene went to the movies, yes, but she also danced in the ballrooms and played piano with her brother. She made those songs her own by using her body and her voice, rather than merely observing the words and movements of others. Perhaps we have the power to incorporate mass culture into our lives — but not by just consuming it.

It’s not just for Davies, or for nostalgia to English working class culture.

If we are to be collaborators and co-creators then we would be well-served by creating cultural spaces for this work to take place. Art not as product but co-creation is the stuff of arts / music education. The tragedy being that we have been steadily stripping such programs from our communities in the performance driven educational reforms.

Mahler. Really.

Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk sums up the performance of Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand (Symphony No. 8). 3.5 stars.:

Mahler’s expression of optimism, dressed in late 19th century clothes, sometimes borders on kitsch. But then again, optimism itself never really goes out of style.

Now Mahler is not a favorite in our house — German Romanticism is too sentimental generally for our taste. That certainly was my reaction years ago when Catherine Comet presented the symphony; I just couldn’t “hear” it. This time, in the second half, things were far more clear, at least musically. The soloists were memorable an well illuminated the text. The final section built beautifully, if in an ironic fashion (the text was about transience of the world, the music was by its force suggesting a transcendence — it was eternity going and coming).

Ah, but the first half? I was disappointed in the chorus: I’ve heard them sing with better precision than this. We can blame it on the composer, but it did seem over blown, and at times a bit mushy, at times a bit bombastic. While Lockington worked to bring out the clarity of the instrumental voices, sometimes they were too distinct, and so came across as a bit fragmented.

What’s that music

On 1/1/12 8:49 AM, dnhendriksen@aol.comwrote:

The gray Psalter symbolizes various things that various people in the CRC don’t like about the denomination.  It perpetuates the idea that the denomination is run by people who are pro-WICO, out of touch with contemporary music and culture, and who want to throw out or change everything about the CRC that is good and familiar.  Maybe that’s an overreaction and we should just accept it as a hymn book that didn’t turn out so well and now we have better alternatives from sources both within and outside of the denomination.  Or, maybe its publication was the turning point in congregations becoming less confident in what comes out of 2850 Kalamazoo Ave. Grand Rapids.

At Church of the Servant we were at the ground zero of that pro-WICO debate.  Musically, we started with only the Blue Psalter, but then began writing our own music. Later we put our music and other found music together in a spiral bound supplemental book. Early on, we also used the Psalter Supplement, a paperback that had some very interesting pieces in it, including some Gelineau Psalms (non-metric; tonal, think Taize-ish), also introduced “At the Name of Jesus” (the RV Williams tune, Kings Weston). Since we had borrowed from a variety of sources, those choices came with the older sets of words — so even when we sing them out of the Gray book, I still think back and sing the way I learned them originally. I’m just getting so old.

These days, Greg Scheer feeds us a wider range of music, often pulled from Global Songs for Worship (Faith Alive). He also dips into a variety of Catholic and American fundamentalist sources. We are so blessed to have him as a director.

Today, it was basically request time, a little more loosey-goosey. Christmas-tide music was the theme, but we did sing Ere zij God (PH 214). Alex my son-in-law wondered what was up with that, I explained that it is a great sentimental favorite of the Dutch.  When Greg introduced it, he explained to our ESL worshippers, that once this community was also a foreigner in this land and that this was one of the songs that they carried with them. I’m a sucker for such blatantly emotional songs.

As to contemporary music and culture: the real problem is that most churches simply do not have really good back-up bands. The pop format may seem simple, but underneath it’s driven by rhythm. Good drummers/percussionists are as hard to find as good pianists.