Comedienne Joan Rivers used to ask that during her shows. It was her way of saying that she wanted to be honest with her audience, that it was time to cut through the b***s***. Unfortunately, plenty of things regularly remind us that, no, actually we don’t seem to be able to talk.
It’s been a fantastic summer for me – with lots of opportunities to catch up with friends and meet new people, to travel and to make music. As some of you know, I travelled with a small group of singers to a fairly remote part of France this summer, where a parish priest in one of the churches that hosted our concerts was concerned about our program. He needed confirmation that we would be singing only Christian music. “Well,” the native French speaker among us reluctantly began, “we will be singing one piece with a Sephardic Jewish text”…”Oh, that is fine,” he told us. “It is the same God, one God…” and he sped off before she had the chance to tell him that we were also singing a set of pieces based on the Hindu Rig Veda. Many gods in that case, but words that were equally expressive of that same human need to connect with the divine.
More recently, I was talking to someone about an organization of community choirs which she had founded. She said that there were people in her choirs who refused to sing the word “Jesus.” The wall between sacred and secular could not be breached it seemed, though I suspect that the wall was actually between a perception of conservative Christianity and everything else.
Can we talk? Or in my world, can we sing at least about things which are not part of our heritage or our personal piety?
I don’t often quote The Washington Post‘s George Will, but his editorial last week (August 5, 2018) sparked an idea in me that I had long felt to be true. Quoting from a book by Robbert Dijkgraaf, Will wrote about a need to rail against “philistine utiltarianism,” and about the “practicality of unobstructed curiosity that sails against the current of practical considerations.” In other words, not everything needs to make immediate sense, nor should our ideas and efforts solely follow a narrow path of usefulness. Wonder should not be cheated.
Will was writing specifically about science, but in my own mind I broadened his meaning to include all of those ideas and experiences which add to our understanding of, well, everything. Our institutions, Will writes, should create a “culture of curiosity.” Our institutions – like churches and community organizations, government and universities. We can’t know what will lead someone down the wider path of understanding, but when we tear down walls then conversations happen, and who knows what that might cause us to wonder about.
Fugues are the musical equivalent of conversation, albeit an Italian conversation where everyone is talking at the same time! Just for fun, here is a favorite fugue of mine performed in a way that feels just right for summer: Bach, Fugue in G Minor, BWV 542
PS Thank you L.S. for encouraging me to begin writing again! Discipline and inspiration have been lacking of late, but September will bring, I hope, hefty doses of both.
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This blog represents my attempt to put thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway. More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of connections between old and new.
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