Saturday, November 18, 2006

Music, the Decent & the Café Court


Emotion later informed by knowledge. This is how I approach the fine arts. I see, hear, react and report. Many times I, “don’t get it”. I see, hear, or read something and it makes no sense to me. I do not understand why a vile of piss and the picture of the pope are considered art. I do however understand these elements meant something to the artist – and the artist was compelled to share the meaning. Some artists communicate better than others. Some have a message which speaks to a larger portion of the population – some artists have a message for a smaller segment. Sometimes the message is clear, other times it’s only apparent if you have the secret “decoder ring”. What does the pragmatist in me say about the artistic endeavor? I believe there are perceptive business people who have no insight to share, but understand the financial rewards behind mass appeal and mass production.

I hold season tickets to the symphony. Do you know what the best part of the symphony is for me? I bet you can’t guess. Nope, it’s not the music – although that is the reason I attend. Mr. Llewellyn’s cute butt? Certainly attractive, but not worth a season subscription. I attend for the half-hour pre-concert lecture. Although I took band in high school, I have no vast, nor informed, knowledge of orchestral or symphonic music. In fact, I’m not even sure the difference between the two categories. What I do know is some music transports me – just as some paintings, photographs, novels and plays transport me - to another place. Learning about a specific composer, the history which informs his style and intent of the music allows me to appreciate, and perhaps make a more educated decision, about certain selections that otherwise might not appeal to me.

Take the Schubert selections from last night. I have heard of Schubert. I’m sure I’ve even listened to Schubert in the past. Could I tell you a single thing about him, or name a single piece of his music, before last night? Nope. Did I like or understand everything I heard? Ehhhh. Parts were good, parts were great, and then – a few sections? If it was a take it or leave it decision, I might have left parts of the program behind. One thing I would have kept? His Offertorium in B-flat and Mass No. 6 in E-Flat Major.

Why? Because they were explained to me. Because the explanation made sense and I could trace the arc of development. (Also – they handed out the Latin translation – and I could follow along with the Duke Choral.)

We wandered through the Kyrie, the Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei. And what pray tell are they? If you’re a good Catholic – it’s the basis of every mass. If you are of the Protestant faith, they’re still familiar.

The Kyrie … you know “Kyrie Eleison” … made popular by Mr. Mister in the 80’s? Frequently and improperly translated as “Carry a Laser”? … Because you know that’s what Luke Skywalker was doing then!

In Latin it translates into “Lord have mercy.” In Mass it’s followed by, “Christe eleison” or “Christ have mercy”. When we pray to God, it’s how we begin. Lord have mercy on me. Christ have mercy on me. We ask God to take pity on us, to hear our pleas and be merciful in His judgement.

This is followed by the Gloria. Literally a telling of God’s glory. Listen closely and you will hear words contained in many Christmas hymms.

Glory to Go in the highest … Gloria in excelsis Deo … and on earth peace to men of good will … et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis. We praise thee, we bless thee .. Laudamus te, benedicums te, … we worship thee, we glorify thee …adoramus te, glorificamus te … we give thanks to thee …Gratias agimus tibi ..for thy great glory … prpter magnua gloriam taum.

Lord God, heavenly king, …Domine Deus, rex coelestis … God the Father Almighty. …Deus Pater omnipotens. … Lord, the only-begotten Son Jesus Christ; …Domine Fili unigenite Jesu Christe; …Lord God, Lamb of God, … Domine Deus, Agnus Dei … Son of the Father, Filius Patris … who takest away the sins of the world … qui tollis peccata mundi, … have mercy upon us; … miserere nobis;

As the choir sang these words – in multi-part harmonies, looping back on themselves, stressing a word or phrase here and there – the beauty of the Mass was revealed to me. The meaning was that much richer for me, knowing as I did now, that in the early church, no music was allowed to accompany these words. Indeed, in the early days the words were monotone, but with a specific tempo – so the supplicants mind would never wander from the meaning of the phrase. Time went by and layers of harmony were added, slowly musical instrumentation was added. The emotional arc of what was being chanted was highlighted by the music – enhanced, not hidden by the addition of multi-part singing and instruments.

For thou only art holy; Quoniam tu solus sanctus; … thou only art the Lord; tu solus Dominus; … thou only art the most high, Jesus Christ, … tu solus altissimus, Jesu Christe, … with the Holy Spirit, … cum sancto Spiritu, … in the glory of God the Father. Amen. … in Gloria Dei Patris. Amen

The Credo follows the Glory. Another touchstone to my faith, “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible ….

In turn the Credo is followed by the Sanctus … the translation? Holy, Holy, Holy …Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus … Lord God of Hosts, Dominus Deus Sabaoth … Heaven and earth are full of thy glory. …Pleni sunt coeli et terra Gloria tua … Hosanna in the highest! … Osanna in excelsis! . Then the Benedictus and finally the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God).

So bottom line – last night was good. I learned something, I could related to the composers intent, I understood how it fit historically – and therefore it was an enjoyable evening.

The Decent

An adjective I use to describe myself is “mercurial”. Two of it’s meanings are:

3. Having the qualities of shrewdness, eloquence, or thievishness attributed to the god Mercury.
4. Changeable in temperament or mood; temperamental; volatile.

Some days it’s too apt of a description. The morning I was up early. I drank coffee, read the newspaper, ate breakfast, cleaned the kitchen and began my laundry. The sun was out – cheery and shiny – and I had a mood to match … for a while. Then, without warning or prompting, my disposition changed. Gone was the anticipation, the joy and satisfaction with my morning. Swiftly and without delay, I plunged into a place of darkness and despair. I cannot tell you what caused the decent. I only know it was swift. Within two hours I was living in a bleak world and my life was equally without joy or meaning.

I hate when I plunge into these pits. I know not what sends me there … nor how long before the cloud lifts. Besides hating the fact I don’t know what causes me to experience these lows, I hate the fact I loose control over myself. No amount of self-will can change the course – and I am helpless to hide the emotional havoc they wreck on my soul.

Today I was lucky, for two reasons. First, I had an appointment which required me to leave the house – and “get out of my mind.” You see, sometimes distraction can keep me from dwelling and descending further into the pit. Secondly, I have friends who I can let know when I’m heading to the pit. Friends who stand by my side – who make a simple offer of companionship – and stand guardian through the struggle.

The Café Court

Is a new group of friends. With each passing gathering, the circle grows wider, and I am introduced to more of their number. Today, as I sat amidst these men – the jesters of the court – they all tossed out a witty bons mots or observations for my pleasure. Presenting me with a story – a gift of themselves. Each was eager to make me smile and laugh. As I sat there they drew near, changing the shape of the circle so soon they were all hovering near. A laugh, a smile, the quick catch of an eye. And soon, without realizing it, their attention – sincere and honest – elevated me out of the pit and back into the sunlight.

At the end of the evening one of them said, “If I were bolder, younger, and more dashing, I’d ask for your number and the price of your company for a night.” And I, with a smile told him, that I might give him my number, but politeness would require me to name a price too high, so I would never have to be rude and turn him down.

With a smile and a bow he said, “Oh, you are a worthy one to be gathered here with us, and we shall have to be careful of your wit, and make sure it doesn’t outstrip us.” And in that moment I felt like a Queen with courtiers at my feet, and made a little vow to never let them down.

So although they don’t know it, thank you to the courtiers of the Café Court. You kind sirs, are worth your weight in gold to me and I feel honored week after week to be invited to sit in your midst.

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