Sunday, May 15, 2011

Watching from the Sidelines With or Without Words

Last night, my orchestra performed its final concert of the season, its 75th season, in fact. But I didn't play. I sat in the audience, and for those couple of hours, I felt as though I weren't watching my orchestra. I wasn't sitting in my usual seat on stage and hadn't practiced the music or attended the rehearsals, so I could claim no ownership. I have to say, I didn't appreciate that one bit, and I'll admit knowing my replacement for the evening is a better horn player didn't help ease my uneasiness.

But I did appreciate the performance. My group or not, they performed very well, so much so that they received a standing ovation. A word about those—you can never tell when an audience is going to be moved to stand with their applause. I thought the previous concert was just as moving, just as well done and just as deserving of an ovation, but only a handful of people agreed.

This was a gospel-meets-symphony concert, with a church choir from Akron and a group called Divine Hope performing original songs. Their musical director had written them, and Conductor Eric had arranged them for orchestra. Small Town and its surrounding county is pretty white bread, but they welcomed this African-American group and loved what they brought to our hall.

My father once told me that music without words doesn't mean anything. He was irritated because I chose to listen to an album of piano playing when he wanted me to cue up an album of hymns. No thank you. The piano album suited me just fine and put me in a state of being I wasn't willing to forgo, and I rejected his ridiculous notion. Last night, I thought about him as the choir and guest group sang words with specific meaning because I knew there were people performing on that stage for which that meaning holds no sway. They were playing music for the beauty and energy it offered—it was well written and well orchestrated and could speak to them on those terms. And when the orchestra performed the second movement of Dvorak's New World Symphony, wordless, the music was just as meaningful as the gospel tune that followed.

Last week, Daughter No. 1 was studying for her Arabic final, and we were listening to You Tube samples of people speaking and singing the language. We both narrowed in on a recording of a young boy singing a passage from the Qur'an and listened to it several times. The words and the meaning behind them meant nothing to us, but the simplistic beauty of the presentation spoke loudly.

Words with music can mean something, but sometimes the words aren't the thing. The musicality is the thing. And you can appreciate a solid performance of gospel music or Islamic music when performed with sincerity, even if the lyrics and the style in which they are presented are not part of your tradition.

Here is the video of the boy singing the Qur'an. Listen to it and see if it doesn't speak to you:

1 comment:

dive said...

What a beautiful reading, Robyn. My Qur'an sounds nothing like as graceful in translation.
Boy howdy … music with or without words. What a subject. I'd reply only it would take me weeks, but then you know my tastes pretty well anyway.
Get back to work on that horn and reclaim your rightful place in the orchestra.