You should read Remonstrans today. You should read it every Monday and Friday. I know a lot of you are not men enough to do so, and that is shame and that is the truth; but you should be. I know it does not win persons over for me to put it that way: I only say it because it is true, not because you are persuaded.
But a religious culture, remember, does not just teach us the art of feeling (as easily forgotten as that is), it also establishes the motives on which a community depends.
It is things like that which are not said all the time by the other persons you read that ought to take you back to Remonstrans. That sentence is worth re-reading and stopping over.
* * *
I went to an organ concert yesterday. I had not been to one since Minneapolis–which was a long, long time ago. My wife mentioned it to one of our new friends, our (rather good) church organist who also happened to have time to go and was present there beside us.
“It looks like an interesting program,” he remarked, not altogether without irony. “Everything from Bach to the Beatles.”
Even though I’m a sabbatarian in a denomination that contains quite a few of life’s remaining sabbatarians, I decided to stay. Do I listen to secular entertainments on the the Lord’s day? I try to put on only music for the Lord’s day, myself, but here we were. Should we walk out on Buxtehude and Bach and Mendelssohn because the show culminated with selections from the Beatles and Andrew Lloyd Webber? I didn’t, but I’m not sure that was right.
Anyway, it was a lackluster performance–which seems to be par for the course in Columbus, OH.
“What is it? the performance or do you think the instrument could use some maintenance?” I asked our (good and even excellent) church organist. He had just told me he was thinking even our electric job at Grace OPC could sound better than this.
I wish I had written down the reply. It was very English, an oblique disparagement not entirely to do with the instrument, but not for that reason crushing.
And I’ve been thinking about it, in the sense of how does one account for what happens. Now if I were a historian I’d investigate, but since I’m clearly not, since I’m an author of science fiction, I speculate. How do you write a story that leads up to this and makes sense of all the pieces you end up with? I was playing my accordion this morning and it struck me that the audience has a lot to do with the performance you get. What they expect. That you need the appreciation of criticism in order to have good performances.
Two things led me to this conclusion. The enthusiasm for the four selections from the Beatles and the enthusiasm for the Franck (as in César). He got some bravo’s for both, and what interested me is that the organist beside me leaned over and said, “That’s more like it,” an instant before the bravo for the Franck flew through the air. He did not, I hardly need add, lean over and say that for the Beatles.
But he might have, because it was more like it in terms of what the audience appreciated.
So here’s the story I speculated up.
The church gets a new organist/music director. Why? Because they have the pipes there, they have an organ, they have old people who tend to pop off and endow the place.
“So, among other things, why don’t you do an organ concert?”
“Oh come on. Nobody would come to an organ concert.”
“Well, I would. I love Franck.”
“You’re probably the only person in the world who understands Franck.”
“Maybe, but throw in some Bach and maybe the Beatles. People used to come to organ concerts. We used to have organ concerts several decades ago. Don’t you have something from college you could play?”
Turns out he has some stuff from his college recital he can polish up. Add some of the Beatles near the end to engage the older generations who still think that’s cool (something pathetic and thumb-sucking like ‘Yesterday’), and an organish show-stopping stop to the whole show with the Andrew Lloyd-Webber. Tee-dee-de-de-deen, dee-dee-te-te-teen, etc. (I’ll tell you one thing, having AL-W after the Beatles actually put his music–I despise him–in a new and positive perspective.)
At least that explains for me why things were played as they were: it was kind of something the guy was prevailed upon though he does not really believe in organ concerts himself and perhaps not even in organs.
Now, for my story and the telling of how it came about, I’m not sure if having the Beatles performed to old people on an organ on a Sunday afternoon in a reputable establishment of former religion is something the irony of which is intended. Somehow I don’t think we live in an age in which it is.
* * *
So I read this morning, and I pause: “But a religious culture, remember, does not just teach us the art of feeling (as easily forgotten as that is), it also establishes the motives on which a community depends.”