Friday, December 19, 2014

Old Music New Inspiration

The other day I was making my way through the bookstore at the Cleveland Institute of Music- just killing some time.  Wow!
If you've never had the chance and you are a music score junky--I highly recommend it.  Who would have thought that so much history, culture, creativity, and paper could be found in a 15 by 15 room? Stacked to the ceiling notations, operas, etudes, papers, books, and scores.
Such environments inspire me right now to forego any internet shopping and make every purchase part of a bigger pilgrimage.

But I also felt guilty.
There I was enjoying a 'find' in the midst of so much pain, sorrow, war, famine, violence, and hunger, chaos, confusion, and evil--not only in Cleveland but of course the world.

So what follows is a little snapshot of what went on in my brain during those thirty odd minutes and following...

What really caught my eye were the two boxes of yellowed scores on the table in the hallway before I even went inside.

"Are the contents in the boxes on the table free?" I asked the lady seated in the corner behind stacks of little notebooks, pencils, lanyards and musical scores.

"Yes, help yourself."

I soon completed my purchase which, by the way will secure my top spot as a top notch frustrated home-schooled student of the cello--  D Alexanian's 1922 Complete Cello Technique, The Classic Treatise on Cello Theory and Practice.

At the table I found well worn and yellowed pages from Etude Magazine and scooped them as well as some other papers up. As I leafed through my treasures at home,  I found myself wishing that such a periodical was still available--written, printed, and hardcopied.
The magazine published musical scores and I happened to pick up the one that contained Georges Bizet's,  Gypsy Song from Carmen.  Even my son said it was a find and this was a big deal because I have been know to arrive home with a plethora of weird treasures on occasion (in fact this week almost had me bringing home a squirrel tail from a nearby roadkill (photo not shared) to be used for tying flies--until my wife reminded me I already had one in the garage).  Among Carmen and Bizet another find was an article on "Building the Successful Choral Society" from 1945.  Having some old church organist blood in me (I confess I belonged at one time to the American Guild of Organists!).
I started to bemoan the current liturgical music situation that has overtaken and infected the liturgies for the past 50 years--and it has something to do not only with a loss of class and culture but probably more so--a loss of the decent salaries for good church musicians.

In addition to the tattered copy of Etude, I ended up coming across a full copy of Were You There? by H.T. Burleigh. 15cents!!  printed in 1924 and my connection is too strong not share.  There was one church in particular that did not lose its sense of liturgical music history and culture and that was the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Paul, of which yours truly was once the assisting clergy (which is a story in itself)  I loved the music and the richness of the liturgy and the Book of Common Prayer.  So too did Harry Burleigh--for he sang in the choir at that very church.

So what is the point?
The dates...
1922, 1924, 1945, 1938--a long time ago
Before homes had typewriters let alone the internet.
Before cell phones and flat screens and even television.
Even before 8 track players.
60 years post Civil War and just prior and during WWII.
You get the drift...

We need to use our God-given gifts to inspire not confuse.  There were some rough, dismal, depressing, violent, and hopeless times in that span of history.  Yet here we are.  And there I was rummaging through a box of music that weathered those times--authors and composers long dead--but nonetheless authors who participated in the creative process and work of 'beauty' and ergo--God.

We need to stop adding to the confusion and fight the 'battles' using our gifts and thus---proclaim the presence of God--not chaos.  Creativity is not about self promotion it is about selfless cooperation with beauty and creation.

I made the mistake years ago, at times, of focusing on my memoir as an opportunity to earn some money.  I set myself up and still am reminded of my ill-fated approach.
I would often have to be reminded that I wasn't writing for myself or my family.  No there was a bigger purpose--bigger than me.   As one author shared "It doesn't matter if it isn't published Michael, the Virgin Mary commission this work from you and you completed it."  Well that was nice and it was a compliment but still it was a big piece of humble pie to chew on.  Eventually i had no choice but to eat.

And know what?  Just the other day an ex priest from a foreign country found me and wanted to chat.  No 'consulting fee' or speaker's offering'  just a quick heart to heart among perfect strangers somehow ontologically connected.

Today--anybody can publish and make a movie and youtube all you need is a connection.  Anybody can produce or expel anything and think it worthy of consumption by not only society but the world wide web. I know because I have.  Hit the 'send' or 'publish' or 'purchase' button and you are an instant author, artist, producer and consumer. We seem to have lost any governing standards in such an approach.

It's easier today to live in the dark and confuse it with living in the light.
It's easier today to simply fall into a pragmatic and relativistic approach to life.
It's easier to be masters of our own.
It's easier to substitute other gods
It's easier to, in the end--forget God.

During those years listed on the copyrights of my finds--inspiration kept occurring.  Old music is a reminder that our God is timeless.  People kept connecting with their gifts.  Even in the midst of the horrific tragedies and wars which beset that time--music and liturgy and prayer and praise were central.  It was a norm that allowed and motivated and inspired people to work a little harder at creativity and gather and celebrate it.

Today, horrific stuff keeps happening but the challenge is for man's creative response to rise to the occasion.  Because it is that which becomes the channel for grace and healing and forgiveness and understanding and patience and dare I write--Real Love and Real Sacrifice and Real Peace?  If we but simply cooperate with the creative power of the God of the Universe and produce gifts that reflect an invitation to live in the light and not the darkness and confusion and chaos.  Oh, and our model?  His Son.

We are not in total failure here and I am not yearning for another time--
I'm merely asking the question, "Can we still live as inspired people?"
Yes.  In the dark of winter may we become one with the Light of Christ.