3.08.2013

Lost Majesties and other stories

This afternoon I stood up in the choir loft at church, with the sun shining warm and colorful through the St. Cecilia window, and listened to a family friend play the old pipe organ.

It felt so odd to me, standing in that immense space with all that sound gusting through the pipes and vibrating outward, that the organ has become such a lost art. All that tremendous majesty, all that colossal reverence, all the challenge of the console with its keyboard levels and stops and pedals and its variety of possible sounds... and we glue acoustic tiling onto the high ceilings of a Gothic church and bring in guitars and drum sets.* It's a strange world.**

Here's a recording of organist Sean Jackson playing one of the pieces our performer pulled out: Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor. Splendid. Just—splendid.



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Spring is teasing us, what with the sun out and a hint of something vaguely like warmth in the air. It knows full well it's only going to poke its head around corners and wave for a couple of months yet. But I'll take every hour I can get of it. The earliest flowers are confident, at least:




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And here are your gratuitous pictures of the sock-loving fiend:




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It's late... happy weekend!

* I love me some guitar and drums—I do. I play the guitar, and I'm not outright opposed to it in principle even at Mass. And our parish has a very respectful drummer. But generally speaking, that kind of on-all-fronts battle against an artistically designed acoustic space is a monstrous aesthetic mistake. Why yes, I do have opinions on the subject.

** But sometimes things turn around... and there are good things afoot in our own choir, from the beginnings of including chant and polyphony and more four-part hymns to the hope of more frequent organ before long. All is not lost. I have all kinds of hope... :)

7 comments:

  1. I'd comment on your last points but I lost focus after the gratuitous cat pictures. :)

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    1. Excuses!! Cute, furry excuses. But excuses nonetheless. ;)

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  2. I don't know if it's the post-Vatican dreary 70's music, but I've not been very moved in the past by organ music. I do like the old Gregorian chant-type music, though.

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    1. Not everyone loves it... but if you've only ever heard it on post-Vatican II dreary 70's music--couldn't have described that stuff better myself--for heaven's sake, give the king of instruments another try! ;) Gregorian chant is sometimes accompanied by mellow organ harmonies. I love that.

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  3. To get really good organ music one has to go to a Lutheran church. :)

    It also helps to have an organist who knows how to play the hymns as they are written & not in a dirge fits all style.

    Guitars & drums, nothing wrong with them per se. Just usually not the best instruments to use in church. Mostly because they're usually being used in praise bands & there's a whole article I could do on that.

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    1. "dirge fits all style" HAHAHA.

      One of our accompanists is Lutheran, actually. He will play the organ if he's asked in advance, but he prefers the piano. I appreciate his willingness, though, along with his awesome knowledge of polyphony. :)

      The accompanist who plays at our Mass is that rarest of all creatures, a young person who plays the organ (not that he's given nearly enough chances). He looks to be all of maybe twenty. I've never caught him going all dirge on the instrument, either--he's done everything from mellow chant accompaniment to bright pieces with the brass at Christmas and Easter. Now if I can only convince the directors to ask him to play it instead of the piano on the average Sunday morning, at least for some of the songs...

      I grew up with praise bands, joined my first at nineteen, and was worship leader by about twenty-one. It's hard for me to entirely dislike or disapprove them, despite the vapid lyrics and the immature concept of reverence. But the vapidness and undeveloped reverence makes them rather poor accompaniments to the Mass, and they clash horribly with Gothic architecture. So, yeah. I'm sure I'd sympathize with your article. ;)

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