So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Authentic accompaniment in an age of two fisted piano playing.

For all the talk of accompaniment, i.e, accompanying sinners along the road of life, musicians perhaps have a better sense of the term than most theologians who, with a few notable exceptions, are not as well versed in the art of collaborative encounter as they could be. Perhaps 'bishop school' could impart some of the wisdom found in the musical arts to help bishops better form their respective symphonies (dioceses) in the art of communion in Christ.

The intimacy of the bridal chamber.

In the realm of chamber music, where the number of performers is typically few—e.g., duos, piano trios, string and saxophone quartets, woodwind and brass quintets and so forth—there is little or no need for a conductor. With or without a conductor, said musicians must realize the score with fidelity to the intention of the composer as communicated through the detailed architecture of the score.

Musicians and composer merge in and through the realization of the score.

At times, false dichotomies occur between musicians themselves when, for example, a part of the ensemble is relegated to the sole role of accompaniment. It may be that the melody is given to one or more instruments or voices. One must be careful not to diminish, however, one part by elevating another beyond that which rightly maintains the intent of the composer and the organizational integrity of the composition. Accompaniment is complementary, not merely complimentary. Musicians complement each other in and through the music, and in an authentic encounter the musicians become something more than the mere sum of the people present. Personalities merge; distinctions continue, but harmony arises. Harmony is diversity in unity. Real harmony is clearly understood by those who possess the 'ear' for it.

When a solo violinist or flautist fails to acknowledge his or her dependence on, say, the supporting pianist performing with him or her a violin or flute sonata, so named because the flute or violin is given prominence, collaboration may be reduced to a mere caricature and the "accompaniment" not understood in its proper light. Omitting the soloist's dependence on the "accompaniment", what appears to be artistry might be, then, more puppetry, a mere reproduction of the soloist's narrow inclinations more than a spontaneous conversation between performers which constitutes an authentic realization of the score. Of course, some pieces are written with technically very simple "accompaniment" and lavish solo parts. Those compositions might be judged differently than compositions which are written in a manner that allows both performers to share fairly in a dialogue. However, simplicity of gesture or part is not license to ignore the nuances of expression—time or pacing, dynamics, phrase shape, timbre, etc.—which are part of every great presentation. If anything, simplicity and silence require even more attention than flashy or extravagant compositions which can tease listeners past subtler aspects of music.

Beauty in the making, pain in the process and the birth of beauty.

A helpful word to overcome unnecessary division between musical forces while retaining harmonious distinctions is the word collaboration, i.e., to labour together. An expectant mother about to give birth to her child knows labour pain. Musicians labour together to produce a musical offspring. Both encounters, baby making and music making, require intimacy: physical intimacy in the case of the former; psychological and spiritual intimacy united to physical effort in the case of the latter. Of course, the loving union of a man and woman, if it be a true communion, is a sign of spiritual, psychological and physical union in Christ. When musicians bring artistry and honesty to rehearsal, the result is the birth of beauty.

Unfortunately, not all musicians share an appreciation for historical performance practice. That is, a realization of the score according to the norms of a given period or sensitivity to a compositional language or style. Nuance can be covered over with egotistical accretions which miss the nuanced embodiment of a composer's intent. Certainly, a great composition can transcend its time. That said, changing a work's performance practice without due consideration of its historical biography could constitute an abasement of said composition.

Missing the necessity of doctrine (the score and performance practice), it is all too easy to invent a pathway that may or may not be configured to the road map (the Holy Gospel) given us by Jesus Christ. We depend upon informed masters (orthodox theologians) and ultimately upon the Spirit guided Magisterium of the Church to help us form our consciences and to acquire and remain in the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

A symphony of performers.

A symphony has a conductor. The performers rely on the conductor to unify them in the realization of a composition. At times, the performers might begrudge a conductor his or her artistic choices and/or status. Nevertheless, the players are unified in their agreement (or fear of messing things up royally!) that they must follow the conductor in order for any realization of the score to be achieved.

A symphony, i.e., the ensemble, can be an interesting collection of personalities. Such an ensemble can consist of individuals who do not get along outside of rehearsals and who do not speak or barely speak to members in other sections. And yet, beautiful music can be made because, when the performance begins, each player puts aside his or her extra-musical inclinations and surrenders to the music. Of course, the person at the helm must be dedicated to serving the music and must possess the necessary skill and depth of knowledge to properly realize the musical score. That captain of the ship is the conductor.

When the conductor is well prepared, the performers know it. If a conductor is incompetent, players tend to ignore any confusing gestures or bizarre interpretations and leadership shifts to a section leader (first chair) or another unifying element such as a percussion part that provides necessary stability and or clarity. If the conductor is unfit, rebellion ensues. If a bishop or priest is unfit for duty—i.e., if he is a teacher of confused and confused doctrine or a purveyor of immorality—then it seems understandable that the people should make the necessary and appropriate expressions of concern and, if no other solution can be found, request of Rome that a bishop or priest be removed for his conduct unbecoming a conductor of the symphony (diocese; parish).

«The Church will have to initiate everyone—priests, religious and laity—into this “art of accompaniment” which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Ex 3:5). The pace of this accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting our closeness and our compassionate gaze which also heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian life», we read in No. 169 of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation of “Evangelii Gaudium.” And No. 171 says: «Today more than ever we need men and women who, on the basis of their experience of accompanying others, are familiar with processes which call for prudence, understanding, patience and docility to the Spirit, so that they can protect the sheep from wolves who would scatter the flock. We need to practice the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing. Listening, in communication, is an openness of heart which makes possible that closeness without which genuine spiritual encounter cannot occur».The Art of Accompaniment [source/link]
The Church proposes; God disposes.

When accompanying others along the road to salvation, it is necessary to listen first and meet them where they are at on their journey and, by carefully discerning the vital nuances of their sense of the journey lived thus far, gently (and perhaps firmly) call them out of distractions and obstacles (sin) to join the company of Jesus on the pathway of hope and to eternal life. One must use language which invites inquiry, identifies obstacles to spiritual (including moral) and physical well being and, yes, language which challenges one to consider the better choice of a life with Jesus for all eternity. Of course, one can only lead another if one is being led by Jesus and His Church.

When all is said and done, the choice to accept or deny the invitation of the Lord is between the Holy Spirit and the individual who has been given the opportunity to encounter Jesus in His Church, in the Holy Gospel and most visibly in Christ's Sacraments.

Christmas teaches us that God cooperates with us by becoming vulnerable. Can we do any less in response to His invitation to encounter and communion?

We must be confident that though imperfect vessels we may be, we must trust always that others are in the care of the Holy Spirit. 'Not my will but God's will be done' is the first and last prayer of every disciple.

Sometimes we can give a poor witness to the Gospel. God, however, can make perfect use of our imperfect witness. An imperfect performance of Samuel Barber's Adagio (from the Quartet or the string orchestra arrangement) will still reach deeply into the searching soul. A few wrong notes or rhythms do not have to hinder the journey of another. We must strive to be credible witnesses, but we must ultimate admit that our witness depends wholly upon the grace of God.

We must trust in the grace and mercy of God to provide that which is necessary to complete our inadequate attempts to foster communion between people and Jesus Christ and His one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church founded upon Saint Peter.

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