October 6, 2007


With all the talk of "community" lately, I thought I'd weigh in. Musicians have a lot to say about community (music really only happens in groups), and the concert I played last night with the Asbury College Band sparked my imagination. I've been thinking about rhythm a lot anyway because of VOM; the rhythm in which we live our lives, how an individual can impact others, but as we played last night some of that started to come clearer into focus.

My first thought was, of course, along "emerging" lines (I can't help it): community simply IS. It's not optional; you can certainly have solo acts, but they're not nearly as interesting by themselves as a whole ensemble. This is often my biggest objection to the Wesleyan/Methodist movement of holiness; it emphasizes so much of personal growth, individual relationship (an oxymoron, I think) that it often forgets that there are others on this planet to think of, others to interact with, and it forgets how those others affect the individual to the point that, in some cultures, the individual doesn't matter so much. Westerners can't fathom that, but ask an African or a Latino and they'll tell you how important family can be.

[Update: It seems to me that solo acts are usually misconstrued; what we like to think of as a solo act is actually the summation of the experience and effort of many people. We conveniently forget the lessons from many teachers, the support of parents, the hours of enforced practice time, the people that taught the teachers, the person who earned the money to pay for lessons, the people who built and bought the instrument ... the list goes on. So don't forget: it's really not just you ...]

But then I wondered; can there be any community without the individual? I mean, at some point we have to remember that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but there still have to be parts. There are horn players and trumpet players and bassoon players and timpanists and floutists ... each one bringing something unique to the music. The music would not be the same without them. And each one of those musicians has spent time and effort and energy learning their instrument, perfecting their technique. The community can't exist without them playing their parts, without the time they've put into their personal growth.

And of course, there's the part of the conductor, which in this case I'd say is not the clergy, but is the Triune God himself. He too plays a part. If the individual musicians have not put in the time to learn their parts, then all is lost, but so too if the musicians do not listen to each other, do not work with one another to stay in tune and follow each other's lead on rhythms and harmonies and even the occasional dissonance (that resolves into unison or harmony), all is again lost - music depends on the community being able to work together as one, their voices balancing into the music, none overpowering the other. It's a conscious effort at first, but eventually it becomes second nature (for some cultures this is the case: community is instinctual). But the conductor is what makes all this possible; he and he alone controlls the rhythm, and in a large ensemble, if a conductor walks away (which, sorry Nietzsche, didn't happe) or the players start to ignore him (which, unfortuantely, does happen), one of two things happens: the piece slows down to the point that it's no longer interesting or particularly interesting, or each section takes over and fight one another for control of the music, of the rhythm.

In our case, we can also safely say that the conductor is also the composer, and that itself has all sorts of interesting metaphors. The composer knows is piece inside and out - he crafts each bit carefully, so that every melody is winsome, moving the audience.

I sometimes wonder what the purpose of the music is. Is it simply because music is good? Is it for some celestial audience that gives a nice round of applause at the end? Or is it something entirely unique to music: are the audience members musicians, unkown even to themselves, and the orchestra's job is to draw them into the music so deeply that their hidden talent can express itself, so they too begin to play their instruments as part of the symphony? Or is there no audience, only a world full of musicians, some more in tune with the music than others? Is God the audience?


Dan said...

let me know next time you're playing with the symphony (or doing a concert), I'd like to take a listen. Love this line of thought, especially the musicians ignoring the conductor. I hope we can begin to bring listening & consequently life back into the music (Christianity/Church/Relationships- take your pick). Good ending questions too, don't have the answers though, I'll leave that to someone smarter.

Welcome to Our World said...

Great point on the individuals that make up the community. That is what makes communities intersting, unique, and volile!

I think that music (good and bad) brings out that inner musician in all of us. I heard a great piano song today in church. Now I have no musical ability, but on the inside I rose and fell with the notes. I was "playing along" interally through emotions and thought. I do that with radio, my ipod, etc. Music helps create atmosphere inside me that helps to refect what I am feeling or thinking. Some day in need Evanescense dark (but hopeful) lyrics and others the day is more Rascal Flats.

Could we say that God is the Great Musician? Orcestrating and conducting his followers to the tune of His masterpeice of creation.