GUEST BLOG: “Why We Might Want to Perform Good Music” by Jameson Marvin
Date: August 26, 2014
WHY WE MIGHT WANT TO PERFORM GOOD MUSIC, by Jameson Marvin
The central thesis of this brief discussion is: perform music of good quality. Music of distinction, performed well, is an experience of lasting value. In contrast, performing "trendy," easy-access, instantly effective music is, by nature, an ephemeral pleasure, a temporary titillation. The satisfaction of the experience is generally short lived. Each individual piece rarely has the capacity continuously to enrich, though the emotions it taps may be strong.
Rock music, for example, appeals so greatly to so many because its principal means of communication-a pulsating, repeated beat projected at enormous volume-is primal. The sound-continuum, over time, is mesmerizing, provocative, and quasi-erotic. Appreciation of it requires little thought. “Pop" music holds an extraordinary attraction for much of our contemporary society. Some pop music may rise above stereotypical cliches, but most of it tends only to solidify the values, traditions, and mores of the current popular culture. Why would we need to hear it in church when we are surrounded (drowned) by it every day?
Choral repertoire is the richest and most diverse in the field of music. Today, conductors have the great fortune of being able to select from an inexhaustible treasure-trove of music from the 15th through the 21st centuries. The major sacred genres of the Church -Mass, motet, cantata, oratorio, Passion, magnificat, Requiem, chorale, and anthem are contained in anthologies, collections, and collected works in music libraries in most colleges and universities. Publishers make available an enormous quantity of significant choral literature, and most offer a wide range of repertoire. Some cater to popular demand and are under financial pressure to publish music that is easily accessible, but probably will be of little enduring value.
One of the profound rewards of performing the vast wealth of sacred choral music drawn from the heritage of seven centuries is that for the participants and listeners, the cumulative experience provides insight into the cultural and aesthetic values of past eras. Singers and listeners who are challenged and invigorated through the performance of the great choral works of the church acquire a broad perspective upon which to base their own values. By cultivating within us the capacity to experience the profound enrichment of "enlightened cherishing”, the choral conductor satisfies one of her/his primary responsibilities: to educate. In the process, choral singers and listeners may be inspired by the depth inherent in this music and how it enriches their lives.
Great choral literature demands participation in the process of creating, recreating, and listening. The reward gained in performing and receiving a Bach cantata, a Brahms motet, concerted works of Schütz, Britten's Rejoice in the Lamb, a Josquin Sanctus, Britten’s War Requiem, a Schubert Lied, Monteverdi’s madrigals of Book V, Purcell anthems, a Palestrina motet Handel’s “other” oratorios, Poulenc’s chansons, new works by Argento or Harbison or O’Regan is directly proportional to the mental and emotional energy put into rehearsing it. The greater the degree of intrinsic compositional integrity, the richer the rewards singers experience in meeting the challenge.
Performing the great sacred choral literature of our western heritage will impact significantly on the quality of spiritual lives. Much of the rich choral repertoire of the Renaissance lies dusty on library shelves, and contemporary composers of significant talent and originality languish in obscurity. This is a great shame, because this music, Schiitz's motets from Geistliche Chornusik, Monteverdi's Vespers, Haydn's Masses, Bach's motets and Passions, Purcell's anthems, Brahms's Fest und Gedenksprüche, Mozart’s C Minor Mass, O’Regan’s motets, Stravinsky's Symphonie de Psaumes - can challenge, educate, invigorate, and impact significantly on the quality of spiritual life of students and conductors who perform them. To deny students the pleasure and life-enriching experience of rehearsing and performing the best choral literature of the master composers of western music, with its multi-leveled challenges, denigrates our principal purpose: educating and inspiring.