Liturgical Dynamics, part IV

I want to follow up a bit on my last posting.

I’m a musician.  I deal in written and printed and published music every day.  I teach it, I sing it, I play it, I coach others in performing it.  In doing so, I’m constantly reading from a script.  We rehearse the script daily.  We purchase new scripts when old ones get worn out, or need editing, or updated laying-out.  And we (well, not me but others who are professional performers beyond what I do) record it.

Now, why do we have so many recordings of the same music?  I have a number of recordings of Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil.  Why?  They all use the same script (or score).  Isn’t one sufficient?  Fact is, no.  They’re all different.  The tone color of the choirs is different, the specific tempi used by the directors are different, and the relative dynamics and their intensity (levels of loud and soft) are different.  Their feeling is different.

What makes music work in large part is the freedom and individuality that is contained within the score.  The score sets out the boundaries, if you will, in which the music occurs: this key rather than that one; this meter rather than that one; these harmonies, voice classes, rhythmic structures, etc.  These musical elements form the boundaries and structures of the playground in which musicians are invited to play.  And the musicians, with their knowledge of style and musical intent, acoustic properties and tone colors, expressive qualities of various rhythmic figures and combination — and lots of hard work fitting it together with this particular band of musicians – bring to life and co-create with the (now dead) composer the script into a living thing of artistry: beauty through form.

Thus the liturgy of the Church.  It is a score made of up the rhythms of dialogue, the textures of busy and still moments, the dynamics of quicker and slower parts, the imagery of poetic verse and the plainness of prose instruction.  Of all the words that are available, we use these instead of those, this art rather than that; and so with vestments, material substances, gestures, sequence, even musical style.  It is no more rendered un-free or meaningless or heartless than is Beethoven’s 9th symphony just because he wrote it down, and every time it’s performed it’s the same.

And yet, not the same.  Every musician and interested listener will tell you that no two performances are alike.  That the great Ode to Joy still stirs hearts is so obvious as to be embarrassing to say.  Yet, it is rather minutely scripted (more so than any traditional liturgy, or at least as much).  The “freedom” and “spontaneity” is not to be found in the musicians creating music on the spot.  (There is music that calls for this, to greater and lesser degrees; and even whole styles predicated on it.  But even Jazz has a script, even if only the barest.)  No – it is to be found in the fact that we have changed since the last celebration.  The world has changed.  Experiences have accumulated, along with wisdom.

This, then, requires a liturgy of substance, a liturgy whose content and form is beyond the mere “here and now.”  It must be one that can contain the faith of millions over centuries.  And it must be one that is real, having been forged in the crucible of live lived and faith tested.

About Rdr. John

I'm a musician: I teach piano and am a professional Accompanist (University of Portland). I'm also a music director. I direct the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church choir (Portland, OR), the Francis Street Singers (Community Music Center) as well as for Mock's Crest Productions, which puts on an operetta at the U of P each June. I care deeply about the music and worship in the Orthodox liturgy, and most of my postings will be concerned with that.
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