Monday, September 06, 2010

Music as a mirror, or not

Some of you know that I drag my agnostic ass to church every Sunday in order to play for a congregation of very tolerant Lutherans ("tolerant" because they know I'm a godless bum, and yet they keep asking me back). The truth is that I actually enjoy this gig, at least in terms of the musical challenges it presents.

Anyway, I was leafing through the introduction to one of my organ books this past Sunday, and I came across this commentary:

... because the prelude, if it is well written and well played, reflects the order and design present in the entire universe and also the Holy Spirit's continuing creative gifts to man, it proclaims God's presence. A prelude is therefore not meant to create a mood.

I have heard this idea before, but never so boldly stated. Music meant to reflect "the order and design present in the entire universe"? That's a lot to ask. (Also: what order?)

I have toyed in the past with the idea of trying to create music that was an idealized version of what the world could be. Some kind of perfect utopian expression (which was, incidentally, what I thought the classical composers were really after, too). In a sense, this is the idea of music as a balm, what Robert Frost called "a momentary stay against confusion." It's escapist -- not that there's anything necessarily wrong with that.

I have long since abandoned that project in favor of writing music that was reflective -- not reflective of some kind of mythical "order," but rather reflective of the deeper truth of a vast and compulsory chaos.

Sorry, that's just how I see things.

[Photo credit: LollyKnit]


Vikram Devasthali said...

I think the author of your organ book, in his own grandiose way, is making a more mundane point.

Expressing her disdain for "intros" in jazz compositions, Maria Schneider once told me that "classical music doesn't have intros!" This puzzled me at first, but I think I understand what she was driving at: by all means, create a mood, but don't beat around the bush.

Chimp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chimp said...

The leaps in that quote, logical and otherwise, are dizzying; not least that the criteria for "proclaiming God's presence" has nothing to do with "mood."

Andrew Durkin... said...

Vikram -- the author wasn't talking about preludes in the sense of "introductions" attached to a larger work, but in the sense of self-contained, independent works meant to be used at the start of a service. (I should have made that clearer!) Again, what tripped me up was the notion that music ought to reflect some (to me, mythical) "order and design" in the universe. (That's my bias, of course.)

Chimp -- I agree. I wonder what the subtext for dismissing the concept of "mood" might be?

Chimp said...

Maybe the author understands "mood" as something "merely" emotional, with no bearing on perception and thinking?