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CLASSICAL  December 2007

CLASSICAL December 2007

Subject:

The Musicogenic Reflex - a Fine Substitute for Religiosity

From:

Janos Gereben <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sat, 15 Dec 2007 19:09:48 -0800

Content-Type:

text/plain

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text/plain (111 lines)

[Dear Jon: My best Nondenominational Jingle Bells to you! JG]

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/12/12/DD5MTRKM7.DTL

   Jon Carroll / SF Chronicle
   Wednesday, December 12, 2007
   
   I am not, as you might imagine, a San Francisco Bach Choir
   kind of guy.  I mean, I approve of the institution and wish
   it well and all that, but it would not be at the top of my
   list of performance organizations to visit this holiday
   season. Besides, there was football on television. I think
   for most people, the choice between the Bach Choir and
   football is an easy one; it's just not always the same
   choice.
   
   I sang in a choir when I was a lad. You would have thought
   that would have made me a convert, but no. I also took four
   years of Latin as a lad, but I feel no urge to go where
   Latin is spoken for a hit of the old declensions. And the
   Bach Choir would be singing in Latin, although it would not
   be singing Bach. Go figure.
   
   But I have a friend who sings in the Bach Choir, and there
   were going to be Christmas carols involved, and the Minnesota
   Vikings were treating the 49ers the way the Roman centurions
   treated Jesus, so I went over to Calvary Presbyterian Church
   on Fillmore Street to see the show.
   
   The CPC is an interesting building with lots of wonderful
   stained-glass windows, none of which depict, you know,
   Calvary. Probably too depressing. And the choir was touchingly
   earnest, filing in in black garments and looking a little
   like a line of mourners. I did what I usually do in these
   situations - I looked at the pretty girls. Men are such
   pigs.
   
   As the music started, I watched the body language of the
   choir members.  There were the head bobbers, of whom there
   were many, and the rarer chin jutters, who emphasized the
   beginning of each phrase with an emphatic thrust forward
   from the neck. There were the from-the-hip swayers - no
   secular hip swaying was, of course, involved - and the
   from-the-toes-swayers. The most interesting were the
   wave-motion movers, whose heads described a shallow U-curve
   every few measures. A gospel choir would have choreographed
   these movements, but I am guessing that the Bach Choir
   thinks of itself as a motionless song-delivery unit.
   
   At halftime, as we say in Bach Choir circles, I thought:
   Well, that was a nice thing. Once every decade or so I could
   do this.
   
   So then came the second half. The church was plunged into
   darkness. From each side, singers emerged from the large
   doors and walked up the side aisles and then back down the
   middle aisles, singing as they went, candles burning in a
   clever potable music-stand-cum-candleholder. They were
   singing "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel."
   
   And I lost it. Tears were streaming down my cheeks. I was
   surprised by my tears and uncertain how to turn them off.
   At one point I was sobbing like someone who had just lost
   a relative.
   
   It's a carol I know, so I guess some childhood nostalgia
   thing may have been at play. But I am not religious and
   thus do not believe that Emmanuel has come to ransom captive
   Israel - although I wish someone would ransom captive Israel
   and soon too, before the world blows up.  Just tell us where
   to leave the money. I do not believe that the birth of Jesus
   of Nazareth is a cause for rejoicing any more than I believe
   that the birth of Jesus of Mexico City is a cause for
   rejoicing, except among Jesus' immediate relatives.
   
   And yet, and yet ...  music is music.  Good singing is good
   singing.  And candlelight is candlelight, and when you are
   surrounded by song in a darkened room, something in your
   soul - in my soul - reaches out for the ineffable.
   
   I think maybe the religious impulse doesn't have anything
   to do with religion. I think it has to do with yearning and
   loss and beauty and hope. It can attach itself easily enough
   to a belief system - hymns are basically a get-them-into-the-tent
   marketing device, which is why megachurches use rock 'n'
   roll to keep the parishioners on message - but it doesn't
   need to. It can merely be wonder that we flawed humans can
   produce such transcendent sounds.
   
   And the beauty makes us cry, which is as it should be.
   
   Alas, the persistence of the religious impulse made me think
   of Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney. I prayed to the Lord that
   these thoughts might be taken from me, but the Lord seems
   indifferent to my pleading on electoral matters. Perhaps
   he's spending too much time deciding the outcome of football
   games. (By the way, Lord, a hearty "well done" on the whole
   Joe Montana thing.)
   
   Anyway, Huckabee and Romney.  Thursday's column.  Urk.
   Please don't desert me now.  Not you, Lord; you, dear reader.

Janos Gereben
www.sfcv.org
[log in to unmask]

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