Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Cat's Cradles and Holy Weeks

We lost author Kurt Vonnegut this week and in my own sadness at this amazing writer’s passing, I found myself turning over in my head a statement he made once, that if proof of the existence of a Divine Power were ever needed, look for it in music. Truth, if I ever heard it. Having just finished playing the overwhelming Holy Week calendar of masses and services for three different parishes and churches, I still find my nerve endings tingling at the intense memories and emotions that particular musical journey always evokes for me.

Life is good, in all its contradictions. Spiritually energized, as an organist I ended the week by phoning my physical therapist to get the kinks out of my back from the grueling physicality of all the playing. Outside my apartment window as I write, the birds are celebrating the season with their own festive choruses, at the same time squabbling over the gourmet bird seed we set out in the feeder. A howling storm yesterday dumped inches of rain in the birdbath and pond, a signal to the daffodils to uncurl their tight-curled heads, all the while flinching from the unseasonable cold.

In the middle of all this, a friend and fellow local American Guild of Organists member showed up with a photo she had found wedged in between the organ case in the lovely pipe organ I had played for the past ten years at a local congregation. It was of an eight-year younger me, standing balletic-fashion on the E. Power Biggs star on the Hollywood walk of fame. My smile was half-embarrassed, knowing full well it was an enormous stretch between my own performing skills and the enormous talent of that legend in the organ world. But then, like Vonnegut and those feathered creatures at my birdbath, our common bond—music—looms bigger than all of us, the celestial rhythm of the spheres, set in motion at creation, pulsing through our lives from womb to that final plot of earth and beyond.

I’ve worked with choirs and musicians that understand full well how small our personal gifts seem when we presume to make a song or anthem or instrumental composition truly “our own”. In the end, after all the rehearsing and practice, we all just give in and celebrate the mystery as we risk sharing with others what those sounds and rhythms, the pitches and silence mean to us. What joy it is for all the potential mistakes and possible missteps, to give ourselves to the moment fully and completely with everything we have.
And how very different the results than when we work with those souls hell-bent on control, tapping out the beats as they desperately try to reign in and channel all the wild and wondrous glory, an exercise in futility that rips the heart of a piece and leaves the listener and singer alike feeling cold and empty.

Life lived, at its best, is no less spontaneous and dangerous. To risk loving flat-out, pedal to the metal, is both terrifying and exhilarating. Even as I consider those go-for-it moments in my own life, in my gardening or music or personal relationships, I hear the remembered rush of the wind whispering through my hair and the silent thudding of my heartbeat responding to the wonder of it all.

Kurt Vonnegut was right. The presence of God is there for the experiencing with or without our feeble consent or control.

And so, may the song of Spring bursting forth in all its untamed splendor echo in your heart as you move through these days of flowers and gloomy downpours—like those shivering daffodils, courageous and hopeful. I truly believe that as we open ourselves to those rhythms, that all-embracing power and energy, even in our darkest moments we are never, ever alone.