R – “Let’s realize first that the arts are not an ivory tower of retreat. They are a doing. They are a making. They are sweat, strain, cramps, blisters, tears, blood, profanity and mocking laughter.” – Robert Shaw
Vivaldi’s Gloria, measure 6 of movement 10, “Quoniam tu solus sanctus”. A half rest followed by a dotted 8th followed by a 16th and then two 8th notes on, “Quo-ni-am tu”. Assume a metronome marking of 120. That means that the 16th note is an eighth of a second long. The first syllable in measure 10 has three components to it: “k”, “w”, “Oh”. Each one of these then is less than 1/16 of a second long. BUT, they are not equal. The emphasis is placed on the vowel so the consonants are even shorter. BUT, those consonants have to have an explosiveness to them to be on equal dynamic footing as the vowel. AND they have to be the same vowel across the board, formed with the same shape of the mouth, both inside and out. AND that vowel shape is not allowed to be impacted by the consonants beforehand. And this must be done at the same dynamic level as everybody else. UNLESS the numbers of each section of the choir are not perfectly balanced, in which case SOME have to be quieter and some louder. THEN the tempo must be perfectly aligned. AND the articulation precisely the same – legato? Marcato? Staccato?
And every one of the 100+ singers must do every ounce of all of this at precisely the same moments.
On their respective correct pitches, perfectly in tune.
And that’s for one half of one measure in a work in which the choir sings over 300 measures. In latin.
The miracle of what we do in music is that we do it despite the acknowledgement that we will never achieve what we’re going after, and we go after it anyway. We are not capable of achieving mastery. I often say to my choirs before a performance that, “Never in history has there ever been a ‘perfect’ choral performance by anyone… and the good news is that tonight we’re going to keep that streak going!” I believe Robert Shaw would have corroborated that statement. Why do we do it then? Because of the love of the chase, and the love of the art, and love of what great composers give us and the love of how music changes us when we are participants in that creative and re-creative process. I love the Shaw quote above, because THAT is art. It is too easily perceived by non-musicians (“gee Rob, why do you always preach that music education should be required for all students?”) as the ivory tower of retreat or the passive, “this makes me feel good when I listen to it.” There’s nothing inherently wrong in either perspective, they simply are not accurate representations of what WE go through to produce it. And the joy for us in attempting the unattainable is the transformation we go through in the process of trying to get there each and every rehearsal – physically, emotionally, cognitively.
PCC concert weekend is here and after last night’s performance, and prior to this afternoon’s, I’ve had a difficult time articulating all the emotions I’m feeling about it all. I think it comes down to the juxtaposition of falling short of artistic perfection, just like every other choir in history, against watching 100+ singers bring Vivaldi back to life and seeing how it transformed both them and the audience, even if for a brief moment in our lives. The latter justifies the former, and the attempt at the former makes the latter possible.
Man has never learned to fly. The best mankind has done is to build machines that momentarily bring them to the air where they get to soar for awhile before they descend back to earth. So true is this as well with music. And for those of us who are musicians and teachers and conductors, I think this is the apt analogy. And why we keep going after the unattainable.
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