Monday, September 29, 2008


Sure, I'm no busier than anyone else. Same number of hours in a day, same need to balance complementary and conflicting interests, same challenges when deciding do I do this or that other thing? So, why is my office so messy, so full of unfinished projects, so blatantly the space of a man whose epitaph will read: "well, he tried" ?

During a sabbatical four years ago, reading in the Dictionary of National Biography (England), I came across this, regarding one Charles King, born in Bury St. Edmonds, 1687, died in London, 1748. He was an organist, composer, and vicar-choral at St. Paul's Cathedral. That is to say, he was a church musician. This appraisal was offered by one Hawkins: "King's inferiority was due rather to indolence than want of ability." It's funny - and it stings - because it's true.

Yesterday began the 2008-09 series of the College Church Concert Series. In homage to French organist composer Olivier Messiaen, organist Carolyn Shuster Fournier played a mostly French program including Messiaen's L'Ascension, and a work commissioned by Madame Fournier for the Messiaen centenary, Ubi caritas for organ, boy choir, and women's chorus, by Jacques Charpertier. This was the first performance in English, the first in the U.S.

The women who assembled to sing this, all from College Church, sang beautifully a very difficult piece. Irregular rhythms, extensive range, unpredictable intervals - this is not normal church music. Its unifying theme - textually and musically - is the lovely "ubi caritas" chant probably best known through the work of Maurice Duruflé. Again I came up against this truth: because of my indolence and undisciplined busyness, the women walked into the program under-prepared. Not unready to sing: they sang beautifully, and the audience thought it was magnificent (it was!) and could not guess that what they heard was the product of only 2 group rehearsals. It was not false modesty that deflected compliments on my work with the group: this success was all to their credit!

I rather like others succeeding, and me having little to do with their success.

Still, something's gotta give. The scramble, the hanging on by my fingernails, the dread when I walk into the paper flurry that is my office - The unfinished projects, the nascent brainstorms, the undared dreams - The receding goal of the high calling, the lapsed and diminishing musicianship, the waiting for the other shoe to drop.

On the other hand: wow! The people of College Church sang their hearts out all day yesterday. The chancel choir and the bell choir served with special distinction in the morning. And I am happy to say that if I am only a conduit for this sort of thing to happen, it is enough.

Soli Deo Gloria


David said...

I think that the congregation sang particularly well in the evening.

Chuck King said...

I couldn't agree more. If that doesn't knock the "tired" out of someone, nothing will. When I feel overwhelmed, it's services like that that keep me going ...