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When I was a college student, I was very active, both as a performer, and as a spectator at my university theatre. During one performance, I unexpectedly, encountered one of my former high school teachers at intermission. I say unexpectedly because he was an elderly Catholic priest. Moreover, he was a refugee from World War II Poland, with English as a “new language.” Theatre must have certainly challenged his language skills. I knew he was quite a learned scholar and a philosopher of international rank. During our chat, I commented on how the performance was pretty far afield from his usual area of study and interest.
But he said, “Not at all, in fact, quite the contrary.” The drama, he said, was almost like an extended dissertation on a view of the human condition. A whole intricate course of study presented in an easy to grasp, directly experienced teaching of a very high quality and having a great deal of clarity and vividness. He indicated that he attended lots of cultural events for that very wonderful benefit.
I was quite impressed by his comments and his obvious relish for the cultural arts. I often reflect on his concept.
Now listen to Carl Orff, composer of Carmina Burana: “I have never been concerned with music as such, but rather with music as spiritual discussion…music inseparable from theatre… It should have direct spiritual communication and immediate effect.”
When we experience a work of musical art, we can choose to experience it on a variety of levels. Like a painting, it can be a pleasant background or fill an empty space.
But, again like a work of graphic art, it can invite us into a “spiritual discussion” a deeper dance with the artist’s mind and spirit. We can enjoy a profound course of truth, beautifully taught, with vividness and power, if we are truly attentive. It is our choice.
As in any other relationship, there are rewards awaiting for those who care, especially those who listen with empathy and attention.
It is also about getting to know ourselves better. Shakespeare said the purpose of his art was “to hold a mirror up to nature” to show us those parts of ourselves we can’t readily see, or perhaps have forgotten. (It’s not always “pretty” either, since it depends on what is being reflected… and so it is with music too.)
For the new year, may you be richly rewarded by your exploration of this legacy, these wonderful “antique mirrors” handed down to us by our talented and skillful ancestors, reflecting the truth, wisdom and beauty of your human family.
Pat Mc Elroy