Music is a universal language. We all respond to some type of music, but how about when we respond to music that is inspired. To music that transcends the talent of we common folk and the music that transcend because a gifted artist extends himself. Some times even we who are less gifted find the wherewithal to become great if we have the right conductor.
I use to be a choir conductor, still am I suppose but not active any more. It is the conductor who interprets a piece of music. This is done by using the voices and instruments at his disposal. His hands way a pattern of time but also pacing, and volume. When his instruments, we will call all the singers and musical instrument–instruments. When all his instruments follow the precise wave of his hand giving the strength his interpretation needs to communicate to the listeners, he has succeeded. Only classical music must be performed as the author intended all other music is subject to the one doing the conducting.
I recently had the privilege of conducting a nice choir, not a great choir, not until now. I stole the idea from someone else but had never applied this particular interpretation. Often we conductors feel the crescendos, the inflections of the instrument or voices(volume) differently than others, yet it is our task to make the same old song sound fresh and inspiring. Four verses to go before we had our results. Would this just be a replay of old odds and ends of interpretations that all had heard or would they experience the unusual and be blessed. I use the term blessed due to the performance being in and for church service.
My instruments were still while one began softly singing the first verse solo. This was not the singer’s solo but mine for I controlled the voice to my need, not theirs. Verse two was song with just the four part harmony, a quartet if you will. Of course, instruments played with both singing groups but all to my command. We then had an unusual interlude where one instrument played as if a long way off but there on top of us all. It too was my interpretation to give or take, to lift up or bring down by a signal from my always moving hands.
The third verse was sang and played forte. You could almost see and feel the hair on the nap of the congregation’s necks lift, so startling and impressive was the sound. It communicated the message of the words like they had never heard before. All verses up to this time were sung to put them in a most worshipful, and meaningful mood. This forte verse was like an awaking, they now knew they were to experience this song, not just listen. We had them in our hand, we had our instruments in our hand—they had never sang so great as this time. Now you would think the fourth verse being sung softly after one with so much forte would be anti-climatic, but no. This solo of the fourth verse sang so reverently, so P(piano) was now converted to such a sacred moment no one dare make a noise.
The congregation sat in silence. Normally they responded with a marvelous hand clapping showing their appreciation but not this time. It seemed their desire was not to break the mood this had created for them. The choir was stunned, the organist and pianist were stunned. Finally, I saw the Pastor stand and approach the Podium. He merely stretched forth his hand signaling all to stand. He began to pray, to pray like I had never heard him pray. His talk with the Heavenly Father was so respectful, so humble, as he confessed he was not adequately prepared in his sermon to follow this sermon in music. He ask the Father to bless those who had witness a time in their life when music outspoke the voice of angels and especially that of this poor minister. May your message be upon all of us who heard. Amen
Even then, the congregation seemed not to move. The magical spell was there, no one wanted it to end. I observed members with tears in their eyes, others apparently had just wiped them from theirs and a few had sat being overcome with the moment. I know these things to be true now for many later told me of their reactions and what they had observed. I thought to myself, isn’t this what music is suppose to do, to give us that inward spiritual uplift knowing it truly comes from God. The words are often just mumbled as we attempt to follow the music, but some one toiled over those words so to convey a message of inspiration. I am reminded of a story in the Houston Chronicle concerning Violinist Itzhak Perlman. This is a copy of that article:
“On November 1995, the violinist Itzhak Perlman performed at the Lincoln Center in New York City. He had polio as a child and walks with crutches. The audience waited patiently as he made his way slowly across the stage to his chair, sat down, put his crutches on the floor, removed the braces from his legs, settled himself in his characteristic pose, one foot tucked back, the other pushed forwards, bent down to pick up his violin, gripped it with his chin, and nodded to the conductor to indicate he was ready.
“It was a familiar ritual for Perlman fans: the crippled genius making light of his disability before his sublime music transcended everything. But this time was different.
“‘Just as he finished the first few bars,’ the Houston Chronicle music critic recalls, ‘one of the strings on his violin broke. You could hear it snap – it went off like gunfire across the room. There was no mistaking what that sound meant. There was no mistaking what he had to do.’ It was obvious – he had to put down his violin, replace his braces, pick up the crutches, heave himself to his feet, make his laborious way offstage and either get another violin or restring his crippled instrument.
“He didn’t. He closed his eyes for a moment, and then signalled the conductor to begin again. The audience was spell-bound.
Everyone knows it is impossible to play a symphonic work with just three strings. I know that, and you know that, but that night Itzhak Perlman refused to know that. He played with such passion and such power and such purity…You could see him modulating, changing, and recomposing the piece in his head…At one point it sounded like he was de-tuning the strings to get…sounds from them they had never made before.
“When he finished there was an awed silence, and then the audience rose, as one.”
We were all on our feet, screaming and cheering – doing everything that we could to show him how much we appreciated what he’d done. He smiled, wiped the sweat from his brow, raised his bow to quiet us, and then he said, not boastfully, but in a quiet, pensive, reverent tone, ‘You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music he can still make with what he has left.’ AMEN, and AMEN.
I loved conducting choral music and even congregational music. Located in the front of congregations you often see the struggles of others as they react to the music, I hope, and to the message being preached. Some times we as individuals are like the members of the choir. They had never been good, just got by. The day of our special, that choir found with the right leadership they could be great. The conductor can only rise to the occasion if his instruments follow and that performance they did. We as individuals often find ourselves lacking in our personal life and most often in our spiritual life. If we let the right conductor interpret our life and we follow that lead, will we not be better than we ourselves dreamed. No one thought for a second that Perlman could perform as if inspired with a broken string, but he did. He went were he had never been before and those who witnessed his performance were in awe. Could it not be the same for you and me—no one ever seems to think we can achieve the great, the big, or even the best. I suggest if we become the instrument of our conductor—Jesus, we will also achieve feats beyond the imagination of the common man. We too have broken parts, but Jesus is a great conductor, he knows how to find out and how to play the music with what we have left in our broken lives. He is also the great healer.