Monthly archives "June 2017"

TAO July 2017–Summer Amusements

Summer Amusements

It’s summer. Are you ready for a little rest from your regular routine? We let our choirs have down time, so they will return refreshed for a new season in September. Dare we be so generous to ourselves? I hope so. Making time for resting and refreshment helps us avoid “Church Fatigue.” Regardless of how successful last year was, there is another year coming soon. Between now and then, let’s have some fun!
What fills your bucket? Get outside for some fresh air—even you indoor types who glow like gamers after an epic, all-night video session. Seek a new experience that you never have time to do the rest of the year. Invite a friend and make the date for choir night! Learn a new joke to tell them. Laughing is its own reward; lightheartedness pays itself forward many times over. Summer is time to develop an inner smile, one that will carry you on wings of joy into the fall.
Over the years, I have learned that a good book extends my love of travel beyond my travel budget’s limitations. You may not be taking an organ tour of Europe this year, but you can still meet some interesting fictional musicians. If you are looking for a good inexpensive vacation, here are some books to book for your next trip.
On the light and fun side, take a look at Alexander McCall Smith’s La’s Orchestra Saves the World. Moving to the countryside to escape the London blitz, La brings a scared and isolated community together through her love of music. Bringing hope to them is the start of her new life, too. The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, by Jennifer Ryan, tells a story of life on the home front in World War II England, where members of a church choir come together in support of each other.
Tim Rayborn has just published Beethoven’s Skull: Dark, Strange, and Fascinating Tales from the World of Classical Music and Beyond. If only this had been our college music history text! Rayborn’s short chapters cover the entire range of music history from Greece to the 21st century. The title comes from an anecdote of the composer who lovingly cradled the exhumed head of Beethoven a half-century after his death. Sometimes grisly, often humorous, this book will blow the cover off any dusty image that has settled over the classical music world. It may read like a tabloid, but the author has done his research. After you come up for air, you will have a book to fascinate the kids in your life, whether they are studying music or not.
Straddling the line between fact and fiction is a new look at the challenges facing Dmitri Shostakovich in his struggles to maintain his own musical integrity in the face of the repressive demands of Stalinist Russia’s propagandists. Julian Barnes has written a brilliant exploration of the meaning of art and its place in society in The Noise of Time. A little time here will give you a new appreciation for the artistic freedom we enjoy today and a warning not to take it for granted.
Most musicians don’t live such exotic lives as these. In fact, most of us are happy to live lives of quiet service in the churches nearby our homes. Do you ever wonder how others are using music to help people? Andrew Schulman has written an amazing book describing his experiences as a medical musician. His career emerged from working through his own life-threatening health issues, where he met experts in neuroscience and medicine who deepened his understanding of the role of music in healing. Waking the Spirit: A Musician’s Journey Healing Body, Mind and Soul describes his work in a modern hospital setting, with stories of the people he has helped in the ICU.
Truth may be stranger than fiction, but fiction retains its ability to transport us to new places where we can see ourselves in the actions and reflections of other musicians. Each of these novels gives us a chance to consider the role of the arts and the artist in life. First, a real early 20th century American classic, The Song of the Lark. Willa Cather’s portrait of a small-town Colorado singer’s path into the glamorous world of opera details her struggles to develop her gifts and count the costs of her artistic achievements. Another classic-in-the-making is Bel Canto, which has stayed on the bestseller list since 2008. Ann Patchett has written a testimony to the power of music to bring disparate people together in a time of crisis. Her insights into the hearts of terrorists and victims show how they found their common humanity only through the expressive power of music. Music also provides a strand of sanity weaving through the lives of people under siege in Sarajevo. Inspired by a true story, The Cellist of Sarajevo explores music’s effect on our emotional endurance. Steven Galloway recaptures the intensity of a not-so-long-ago time echoing into today’s issues.
And, who doesn’t love a good mystery? There are many kinds of mysteries, so let’s start with a character study in The Piano Maker by Kurt Palka. Helene quietly arrives in a small Nova Scotia town to play the piano for the church choir. Emerging details from her past challenge her to overcome the effects of a long-buried episode. From Spain comes The House of Silence by Bianca Busquets. Here the drama is centered upon discovering the source of a valuable 300-year old violin. Four characters’ passion for music takes them across the capitals of Europe to a grand climax at a memorial concert in Berlin. Whodunnit? You’ll have to uncover the mysteries for yourself!
I love short stories, but it’s not because I have a short attention span. I love them for the way the form’s limits push authors to greater clarity in their writing. I love them because of the variety of locations and characters they provide. I love them because I can remember who everybody is without having to go back all the time. Oh, maybe I do have a short attention span! Here is Kazuo Ishiguro’s Nocturnes, where interlocking short stories explore five musicians’ intersections with life. For each, music is a central part of their lives. Regardless of their circumstances, the insights they gain in performance help and enrich the heartbreak in their lives.
As one of my bibliophile choir friends says, “So many books, so little time.” I hope you enjoy some of these recommendations. As you can tell, I love reading, whether it’s books or music. Doing so opens worlds beyond ourselves and invites us to learn something new. We love the organ, too. Have you ever thought about what it has taught you about life? Surely, the organ has something “novel” to teach us. In closing, here are some life lessons I have gleaned from many hours on the bench:

“10 Things I Learned from the Organ:”
1. Music is the key to life.
2. Sometimes you just have to pipe up, so stick to your principals.
3. When in doubt, think outside the Bach’s.
4. There’s no shame in manual labor.
5. Practicing scales will tip them in your favor.
6. There is nothing wrong with being sent to the bench for a little time out.
7. Messiaen around is a part of life, even when you are busy.
8. Some of the best things in life are right under your feet. Take time to enjoy the beautiful stops along the way.
9. It takes a delicate touch to get the best out of life.
10. Organ study makes everything else in life seem like a breeze.

Summer is here. Enjoy and renew! Next month we’ll catch up on what’s new in organ music.