Saturday, June 13, 2009

Does it seem as though God can discipline us through those things we are proud of or covet?

Rhetorical hyperbole is ever popular, is it not? It is a natural response to overstate yin in response to an unusually vigorous argument for yang. Everyone can argue until Jesus returns about all of these kinds of things and everyone can have a prooftext, whether it is invoking Christ as groom or mentioning that if you do not hate your father and mother and brothers and sisters and spouse you are not fit to be His disciple. Family means nothing in comparison to Christ and yet Christians in America urge us to place family first though serving Christ would certainly entail caring for family (as Paul's statements about widows make obvious). That we know in part and prophesy in part seems like the thing we so often forget.

These sorts of discussions get me thinking about God's anger at David for his sin with Bathsheba. When Nathan goes to David and confronts him the confrontation, we understand, is about adultery and murder and clearly these are both wrong, but the upshot of Nathan's rebuke reveals that David had been given much yet despised the word of the Lord. He had been given his master's rule and house and wives to care for, he had been given much and, if that was too little, more would be added! David had no shortage of wives or children or possessions at that point and yet he committed adultery and murder. Why? We can't really know for certain what the Spirit has not revealed entirely. We can surmise coveting was probably involved since to take something which is not yours you have to covet it.

David had within his day possessions beyond what we might ever think to ask for and yet that was not enough. We like to imagine in our time that materialism is a rampant problem and that in the old days more spiritual people were better about these things or men and women after God's own heart. The Lord through scripture rebukes us of this delusion about the past explicitly in Ecclesiastes where Koholeth says we are fools to ask where the good old days have gone, but also implicitly when we see even godly men such as David consumed by avarice despite having more than most could have had in their lifetimes. Whoever loves money never has money enough, whoever loves children never has children enough, whoever loves wives never has wives enough. The eye has no fill of seeing nor the ear of hearing and cannot be satisfied with those things which it would find most satisfying.

We can see that when God is gracious enough to bless us with goodness we may lack gratitude for that goodness. From that lack of gratitude we can begin to covet and from that we can turn to sin. Those things which God in His kindness gives us become how we define ourselves and then that becomes insufficient.

David had Uriah struck down by the sowrd of the Ammonites to take his wife. God's punishment is that because of that the sword would never depart from his house. And because he secretly sinned with another man's wife by taking her and killing her husband, God ordained a punishment in which his own son would publicly take his concubines in broad daylight what David did at night. The rebuke of God is to bring shame to David through the thing which he secretly did to please himself and to punish his entire household with the thing which he used to forcefully attain for himself the pleasure and quality of status he coveted.

When we embrace evil God can use that evil to rebuke us. When we prize something above Christ then Christ can use that which we prize as the means to punish us, as the source of our grief for the rest of our days. Christ, even in His mercy, can permit us to be crushed by the thing we reach out for. Now for some this may be sex, for others it may be family, for others it may be career. Whatever we take pride in Christ can use for our humiliation. David's life is instructive.

Even a man after God's own heart can be tempted by Satan to do terrible, stupid things at the behest of the Lord as a way to humble His people. Consider the census and the disastrous consequences of it at the end of David's life. Scripture reveals that Satan was the immediate agent dispatched by God as a way to punish God's people because He was angry with them. God can both use a godly leader to make a sinful decision to punish you and punish a godly leader for making a sinful decision that puts himself before you. And we can go through our lives being Davids ourselves.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Was Sor really the 'Beethoven' of the guitar?

No. He was more like a Haydn of the guitar. Now I'm aware that guitarists will say that is all inherently unfair and I agree but I'm about to devote a blog entry to explaining both why such comparisons feel necessary and why they can serve as curious lessons in how and why the guitar is a niche art in classical music. Perhaps more than anything else to say that Sor was the "Beethoven" of the guitar reveals different ways of thinking about Beethoven and the nature of guitar repertoire.

Beethoven and Bach are arguably the lead contenders for the greatest composers in the history of all Western culture. Mozart gets thrown in, too, because Mozart fans are like that but in terms of length of life and sheer volume of work and influence neither Beethoven nor Bach is likely to be surpassed. I would put Haydn very high on the list but he is in some ways a transitional figure for us in the 21st century. He was, as many seem to see him, merely a stepping stone from Bach to Mozart and Beethoven, both of whom are considered more daring and creative even though both were not as groundbreaking as Haydn was in several ways.

Beethoven did not really innovate in form as much as might be imagined. Yes, his amalgamation of fugue and sonata form is incredible but Mozart and even Haydn had made steps toward that. What was unusual in Beethoven was the intensity of emotional expression and developmental potential in his ideas ... and the intensity with which he actually developed his ideas. His later sonatas for piano are so relentless in their exploration of their respective ideas it can become daunting. Either you love the ideas or you don't and the resultant obsessive expansion and illumination of those ideas will either captivate you or infuriate you.

In this respect Sor could not possibly be a Beethoven of the guitar because while we see some bold modulations and a willingness to tackle any and every key signature these would not make Sor a "Beethoven". Legnani and Giuliani also explored keys that few guitarists like to play in and, it seems, still fewer guitarists seem eager to compose in in the classical set. Sor may have replicated the aspect of epic scope that Beethoven's works have become famous for but in terms of the intensity and focus of his ideas Sor is much closer to Haydn. Having said that, I'm a big Haydn fan and believe that many people under-rate the greatness of the man's music. So coming from me calling Sor the Haydn of the guitar is hardly a put-down!

As I wrote earlier, Hans Werner Henze wanted to write a Hammerklavier for solo guitar. I believe this reveals a great deal about Henze's assessment of the guitar literature. First of all it highlights that he must not have thought Benjamin Britten's Nocturnal qualified. Second of all it indicated that the sheer scale of Royal Winter Music suggested that even a non-guitarist writing for the guitar and wanting to emulate Beethoven's precedent worked on the assumption that bigger is better. I'm afraid that that can't possibly be the case with Royal Winter Music!

Closer to a Hammerklavier sonata for solo guitar would be, say, Nikita Koshkin's mammoth Sonata for guitar solo. I like the piece a great deal but Koshkin is so liberal in his conception of recapitulation and modulation in tonal idioms that he is arguably revealing the intensity of his earliest influences. Koshkin is more who I would call the Shostakovich of the guitar, which is still very high praise indeed for me.

Now I don't think there ever was a Beethoven of the guitar in terms of the intensity and breadth of musical ideas and feeling such as we find in Beethoven's work. Beethoven's work stretches the limits of what was considered possible or acceptable in technique. There is the small legend that when a musician complained about how difficult a part was to play Beethoven remarked that it was written for a later generation. There is, to be sure, plenty to dislike about Beethoven the person and some of his attitudes about musicians he wrote for, but we still know who he is. Then again, Hitchcock could be beastly toward his actors and actresses and we still watch his movies.

I'll admit that, though I'm a nobody, I have been slowly working through composing in such a way that I take to heart the economy of expressive and structural means Beethoven availed himself of. I am never going to be a Beethoven and frankly I would feel fortunate to have any of my music performed or published at all. Even so I believe it is good for guitarist-composers to aspire to a higher level of intensity in developing music ideas.

We so often limit our thought to what is easy or easily conceived that we are other protesting the lack of true appreciation outsiders have for our instrument on the one hand or we are defending sonic wallpaper and talking about how the limitations of the instrument are to be heeded when they may be limitations of convention and expectation rather than of what the instrument itself and two hands playing it may be able to achieve. We should neither suppose the guitar has no limits nor that it has more limits than it has and if we have our minds made up about what one person can accomplish with one guitar that may well be the last word spoken before the sentence is even finished. Regardless of whether or not he was the Beethoven of the guitar we would not have had Sor if he had had that kind of attitude.

mind power, boy! mind power! five dispositions I have found useful in slogging through composing

The more I work as a composer the more I realize that the greatest obstacles to getting work done do not so much lay in the body as in the mind. If you're blind, like Joaquin Rodrigo or Louis Vierne were, this is no obstacle to composing so long as you can feel instruments and hear. It was clearly no obstacle in the end for either Ray Charles or Stevie Wonder. If you become deaf and are Beethoven it is no inherent obstacle to you being a composer. To be fair each of these musicians overcome remarkable obstacles but I'm getting to my point about the mind's role in creativity. Mind power, boy! Mind power!

It is becoming more apparent to me as I get older (not that I'm old, I'm in my mid-30s, but I plead guilty to having always felt old at heart) that failures in creative arts (as perhaps anywhere) are failures of mind. When I was in high school I took some cermaics classes and I made a number of ambitious projects, considering I was a first semester student, like a clay doll and some whistles. But in my second semester I remember only making a series of frog whistles and I didn't even have the technique to create the whistle part of things. My more ambitious creations involved multiphonic frog whistles. I kid you not, I created these big frogs that had two chambers and options for playing a few notes. In one case one of the frogs had two chambers that were not the same size and created a surreal tremelous sound. My teacher was impressed at my luck, saying it actually sounded like a frog and that if I was going to make a mistake in the size of the chambers it was a serendipitous mistake. Yes.

Well, that's to say that when working with ceramics my mind was limited. I couldn't clearly imagine all the things I could do with clay, all the possibilities. With poetry I had a clearer sense of what was possible, how I could play with language and it was easier to play with things and branch out into new possibilities. Immersing myself in T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost, and Wallace Stevens certainly didn't hurt but that was college. At the rist of pointing out something obvious the difference between an artist and a non-artist is that the artist explores the arts out of love for the art but also to learn where as the non-artist explores the arts for simple enjoyment.

What is the difference between exploring a theme as an artist and being stuck in a rut? One person's theme may be another person's rut and as many have joked Haydn symphonies all start sounding the same after you hear a dozen of them. Phillip Glass works that all sound the same to me, however, sound scintillatingly different to fans of his work just as I can hear distinctions within Haydn symphonies that other people, I'm sure, utterly fail to appreciate or even perceive. I can hear a few seconds of a guitar solo and in a few cases just hear a bass line and can identify an old rock tune. Our brains adapt themselves to become good at the things we believe we need or want to be good at.

Having said all that, the difference between being stuck in a rut and exploring a theme is a painful, obvious, yet mysterious one. If you can't think of new things to do or can think of new things but don't feel that you can or want to do them then that is a sign of a rut. A musician who spends sixty years writing different kinds of blues because that's what he or she wants to do may seem to be in a rut to the outsider but to the blues fan and to the musician this is not a rut but a theme to explore. Arguably the blues musician IS in a rut but sometimes ruts are themes. If the blues musician were to tackle Tin Pan Ally we wouldn't be surprised to see the person crash and burn. If we saw a blues musician sing Tin Pan Ally songs but not write them, that would still be an interesting avenue of creative development. Arguably what Johnny Cash and Ray Charles demonstrated to us in the last century is that singers and songwriters can assimilate nearly anything in the popular style into their artistic vision. These men were reminders that style and substance are not necessarily the same even when they are powerfully intertwined.

And when you survey the greats of pop music you begin to observe that the greats were able to assimilate a wide variety of concepts. When you survey the greats in art you see that this holds true as well. The great classical composers, most obviously in the case of Haydn, assimilated both popular and academic elements of their art. The stratification of high and low art in the 20th century is one of the more puzzling and unfortunate aspects of academic culture. There's nothing wrong with seeing Beethoven and U2 as part of the same continuum of musical heritage. The Rolling Stones and Takemitsu are part of the same heritage, too.

Now at the risk of pointing out what by now would be obvious to anyone who reads my blog I believe that since Christ is reconciling all things to Himself there is no high or low, pop or art, classical or rock. These things exist, certainly, but the divisions between them don't have to, all are united by Christ. So this means that the differences can be respected and celebrated but that they can ALSO be assimilated, minimized, and in some cases eliminated. The important caveat I feel I need to include about the "also" statement is that this assimilation and synthesis can be accomplished without obliterating the unique identity of each style of music. Perhaps an analogy might be to marriage, the man and woman do not cease to be themselves in marriage but in marriage they become not just new people as individuals but something new as a couple.

I make no bones that a theological agenda drives all of my composing. If Christ is uniting all things through Himself (Collosians) then the path for the Christian musician is clear, to explore through music how this reconciliation happens. For others this happens through direct song-writing. For me that sometimes happens but I have a less direct approach, an approach I admit may be too esoteric for most people to appreciate. On the other hand, perhaps less direct approaches that are informed by reflection are what is needed. Would Andrew Stanton have gotten to a point where he could give us Finding Nemo and WALL-E if he had spent all his career in VeggieTales level didacticism? Probably not. I covered that issue interacting with Matthew Lee Anderson's work and won't recycle that beyond saying that the older I get the more I observe how young evangelicals want the status of being "culture shapers" without actually being culture shapers. I also notice that the be fruitful and multiply set seem to think that if we just outbreed the Muslims we'll re-Christianize society.

All of that preamble is to say that I have made some important progress on a project I have been working on for years. Thanks to studying the fugue at the end of the Hammerklavier and sifting through the analysis Charles Rosen did of the sonata as a whole I have returned to a sonata I have been working on that has a fugue as its closing movement. For years I have been fascinated by exploring a three-movement cycle that goes like this: sonata, aria, and fugue. I have been attempting to find ways to tie together the three movements and inevitably I would have to study Beethoven to get a clearer sense of how this could be done. For my piano sonata that took me a decade to complete I had to study Schubert but Schubert, you know, was in the shadow of Beethoven. Now that I have studied up important works by both composers I have a clearer sense of how to proceed in my own work.

I would probably bore you if I attempted to explain how I have managed to solve the structural problems in the fugue I'm writing for viola and guitar. I will, however, take the liberty to share things I have learned from other musicians over the years. Perhaps the most important of these lessons for me in the last few months is this:

1) Some of the most important work you do is AWAY from your instruments.

I first heard this advice from a fellow composer who was a very accomplished composer and pianist and had years of experience singing in choral groups. He found that both in studying music and in writing music it was valuable to tackle a score on its own terms, studying and memorizing and analyzing it apart from being at the keyboard. There is a temptation to let your fingers do the walking and cheat your way through playing something it that you may, in truth, not really understand. Now it is just as true that many a musical work does not reveal itself until it is played but that is another form of knowing. That is also, to be a bit too simplistic, a PERFORMER'S way of knowing music. For a composer the advice that it is valuable to work away from your instrument is vital.

As a composer it is hard to emphasize this enough. The initial inspiration may come to me at an instrument, whether I am playing piano, playing guitar, or singing, but the actual WORK of the work frequently happens somewhere else. I'm not even talking about working on a computer, I'm talking about sitting down with pencil and pen and an eraser and paper and working things out by hand. I will even manipulate melodies as I go on the page and sing the results back to myself to find out how I feel about them. If a melody sounds good forward how will it sound upside down? What if I break out a fragment of it and sequence that? What happens if I sing a melody backwards? If the melody isn't very pleasing backwards what little changes can I make so that it will be pleasing backwards? Suppose I take a gesture form the melody and alter each note by changing the gap between leaps by one step each? Suppose I attempt to present the melody in its primary form over an augmented retrograde inversion in the bass line beneath? Maybe it wouldn't work but it might at least be interesting to try.

2) always be willing to change the form of the work to fit the substance of the idea.

The axiom that form follows function is essentially true. Perhaps it is TOO axiomatic but there is still something to it. I do believe Beethoven has proven to us that ideas that can work as a fugue subject can ALSO work as a sonata theme but, again, Beethoven is so far out at the conceptual limits of what is musically possible I would urge people to be careful. You won't discover a melody that can be transformed into both the foundation of a sonata theme and a fugue subject right off the bat. In fact as I have been arguing implicitly through this whole blog entry you won't even be capable of CONCEIVING of such a thing until after possibly ten to fifteen years worth of work in music.

If you find yourself committed to working on an idea as the basis for a set of variations and find that in the end none of the variations as variations are winning you over but that you can repeat individual variations over and over again as stand alone ideas you MIGHT be looking at something better used in a sonata form. That was the discovery I made for a sonata I am working on now. If you find that something you wanted to turn into a fugue presents too many difficulties for generating satisfactory counterpoint you may be looking at a variation form idea if it is pregnant enough for embellishment, or you may be looking at something better employed in a dance form.

At the risk of speaking too generally my discovery in the last fifteen years has been that if a melody does not lend itself well to a fugue exposition it will not necessarily lend itself to a sonata form either, and vice versa. I don't want to waste your time by explaining precisely why. I"ll just make an appeal that historically the sonata replaced the fugue as a way to express the most abstract and intellectually intense musical ideas in the Classic era after the high Baroque era came to a close.

3) If it is really worth doing today it will still be worth doing next week or next year.

This might seem counterintuitive but it is true for composers. Don't let your obsession with being goal-oriented blind you to art as a process. Getting something done does not in itself prove that you got that thing done well. Shostakovich used to remark that he would solve the problems of one piece when he tackled them in the next piece he wrote. Villa-Lobos clearly had a similar aesthetic. Beethoven, Brahms, and Bach pretty obviously did not. Haydn was writing works for hire and seems to have been somewhere in the middle.

If you have a scrap of melody or a chord progression that you think needs to get attention now then by all means plug away. But it doesn't hurt to also ask yourself, "How happy will I be with playing this thing exactly as it is four or five years down the road?" Think of rock bands that don't play their earliest songs anymore.

Especially if you ever consider being on the road or having works published or performed consider that when you work on something the throw-away bits may be the bits the world knows you for. Ravel rued the day he scribbled out "Bolero". He's probably even luckier to have never lived long enough to see how the music would eventually be used in some films. This is not a paragraph appealing to the ideal of timeless art that will outlive you, it's a reminder that you will have to live with what you have created so make sure you don't lower your standards so much you spend the rest of your life realizing that you, like John Lennon, have a few songs that are well-known that you hate and feel don't represent your best artistic self.

Paradoxically the works that we toss off casually may be most indicative of where we are and who we are as artists. There is a carefulness to art that can hide rather reveal the true nature of the artist. I am at a point in my life where the material I whip out in a week feels about as indicative of my work as the pieces I toil over for years. That may be good or it may be terrible.

Another way of saying this is that if there is something worth doing it is something worth RE-doing. To descend to mere jocularity a friend of mine was explaining to my brother how he and his wife were trying to have children and had not had success. My brother said, "Well, if all else fails try, try again." The friend chuckled and told my brother that put that way it didn't seem quite so frustrating. Koholeth wrote that there is nothing better for a man to do than to enjoy the work God has given him to do under the sun and lamented that when God does not give a man enjoyment of his labor or possessions the man is miserable indeed. Part of working in the arts is you can discover whether or not you find joy in the work itself or whether it is something else, something I'll get to in point 5. For now this latest thought allows me to transition straightaway into observation 4.

4) You create to continue learning not to prove what you have learned.

I'm willing to go on a limb and assert that this is the difference between an artist and a dilletante, however wildly the technical skill or appreciation may differ across the arts. The difference between scripture and a catachecism is that the first beckons us to join in the life long struggle across space and time and place to discover Truth while the second tells us what we must affirm the truth to be. Both have value but the second could not exist without the first. The second affirms the scope of mysteries revealed in the first that cannot be exhausted. So it is with the distinction between great art and other kinds (whether middling to good to bad to awful)--a great artist creates to continue exploring and learning while a middling artist may well set out to prove a point.

Hollow didacticism and truncated definitions of the human experience are hardly the sole domain of the religious but the stereotype is not without warrant. There is a role for didactic art, obviously, and Bach wrote quite a few explicitly didactic works but the process of discovery is not simply that of the student but also the teacher. THere is a difference between sharing something with someone else that is for you a moment of discovery and sharing something because you believe the world needs a public service announcement of what you know that the world would be better off for knowing. Even an ego like Beethoven's could have moments in which the core of the artistic moment is, for want of other words, humble.

This last one is more observation than anything shared with me

5) Pursue the arts out of love of the craft and not to feel special

I worked on literary magazines in both high school and college and I met a few would be poets and artists and dreamers. Since I attended a Christian college I got to see and hear stuff prefaced by the inevitable, "God gave me this ... ." A number of my acquaintences cynically took to rhetorically asking themselves whether God REALLY gave this or that person such and such, the rhetorical answer being 'no'. I opted for a different approach. God giving you a poem or a song or a story does not mean you have no obligation to shape and mold the material yourself. Whereas God might tell other people exactly what music they needed I always have had the distinct impression that God wants ME to rewrite stuff. I shared this with my composition professor and he laughed.

So far as I can hazard a guess what inspired these people to write their poems or write their songs or make their paintings is that they felt the love of God. Feeling the love of God is wonderful, feeling special is wonderful. We all want that. No one on earth or under the earth or above the earth doesn't want to feel special and loved. In a culture that worships artists of varying sorts as heroes, whether novelists or musicians or painters or actors or directors or poets or entrepreneurs it is the easiest thing in the world to want to go do something and be something so as to be special. There is a fine and puzzling boundary between embracing the arts because you feel touched by the divine participating in the arts and feel drawn closer to God (any unbelieving readers, bear with this, I'm writing as a Christian and I get that your experience will be different) and embracing the arts out of a sense of or a desire to be feeling special.

Jesus said that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks and that the good man out of the treasure of his heart brings good things while the bad man out of the treasure of his heart brings bad. Paradoxically there is absolutely nothing about the arts that will make you feel special. Indeed, you will be a nobody. Beethoven was a nobody to many people. Many people today have no idea who J. S. Bach was. Tomorrow many people will not know who Bob Dylan is, most of the world, really. As Koholeth put it, there is no memory of that man. If your heart is not full embracing the arts will not make your empty heart full. If you attempt to fill your heart with something so that your art will be full it won't get anywhere.

Now the truth is I am not sure what I do matters or that people will much care about the music I write. I often wonder if my music is too uncompromising to get played or for people to appreciate it. I am also anxious in performance settings. I would much rather write music that other people can play that to put my head on the chopping block of an audience if I can help it. I admit to generally having a failure of nerve. I also see clearly that being a composer or a writer or whatever will not in itself confer any meaning to a person.

Man does not live by art alone and God did not design us to be alone. I bristle at the Driscollian propensity to argue that this means people should be married because of how it tends to be employed and because it seems as though it forgets that one's identity is ostensibly in Christ. Well, by the same measure, if you attempt to find your identity in your art or your boyfriend or girlfriend those things will die and shrivel up at some point. Even egos as large as those of Beethoven or Bach were working out of love, love for the craft and in their own unusually usual ways love of neighbor.

All that said, people and not things love you and make you feel special. If you want to feel special go get a boyfriend or girlfriend or spend time with your mom and dad or your friends (and you probably have a few). Don't go become an artist or a writer or a musician or a composer or an actor. You won't matter, you won't feel special, you probably won't make any money, and no one will ever know who you are, most likely. If by chance I'm wrong on all those counts you STILL won't feel special. If you feel special and in the spur of the moment write a poem of gratitude to God for feeling special, awesome. Don't send it to me. Becoming an artist of any sort to differentiate yourself from family or friends will yield nothing for you. You might even find that if you embrace something to be special that someone else will overtake you in the thing you chose because you hoped it would help you stand out. That totally sucks but then again we don't know who will be better than us and there's always someone.

Yet if the beauty of the art and the world around you is something that spurs you to continue exploring a medium; if the beauty of friends and family or some other loved one fills you with joy and the sheer work of working within a medium continues to inspire you; if after three to five stupendous challenges you happily think "What's next?"; if every setback becomes a challenge to surmount and inspiration to exploring new possibilities of learning and sharing then by all means become an artist of some kind. That's awesome, even if you're Phillip Glass and I absolutely detest your music I won't begrudge you the joy of sharing the beauty of the world with people even if I'd rather I didn't have to hear your music.

So them's my ramblings on that topic. Better that than boring all of you with technical minutae about modal mutation in a subject and how it lends itself to rapid tonic to mediant modulations, right? :)

Jesus said that it is better to give than receive. It is in giving that we receive and it is in dying we are born to eternal life. Even among those who are not Christians I find it incontestable that the artists who perservere do so out of love for their craft and out of love for their neighbor. The affirmation of the self is not the point, even the expression of the self is not the main point but a kind of fringe benefit.

Monday, June 08, 2009

slowly unpacking

I pulled a few scores out of boxes this last weekend, two very important scores for personal reasons and long-time readers of this blog will piece together why as soon as I name them:

Vaughan Williams' Mass in G minor
Frank Martin's Mass for double choir

Yep, at some point I want to tackle the Credo and Martin's mass in particular has been promising. As I have written elsewhere at some length Martin uses a thematic approach in which a melody is used to indicate the persons of the Trinity, exactly the kind of musical and theological structuring device I have been wanting to use in my own Mass, particularly the Credo. A very broad ABab structure is what I am settling on. Where the text discusses persons of the Trinity I want common thematic material, where the text discusses the life, death, and resurrection of Christ I want common material that can be redeployed in closing statements about the Church.

It is funny how I now feel as though I have spent a whole decade reflecting on musical forms and on the theological content of the Creed to just now get to the point where I have what is admittedly a tentative plan for a musical setting. I'm not like Haydn or other Classic era composers, who apparently tossed off settings of Masses that even in their own time were criticized for being a bit glib, celebratory, and lacking in theological content. I happen to like some of Haydn's masses, honestly, but I agree with Charles Rosen that sacred choral music in the Classic era largely sucks and I probably disagree with Rosen about the quality of Beethoven's sacred choral music which I like least of all among the composers from that era. Beethoven blows, Mozart wrote parts of a Requiem and a Mass that I wish he had actually finished, while it has been Haydn's Creation that stands out as probably one of the few truly great sacred choral works from that entire epoch.

Part of developing s an artist is recognizing what stuff to keep and what stuff to ignore, the stuff to ignore often being at least as imporant as the stuff to keep. Different eras of Western music employ different forms to different symbolic effect. I could attempt to get into affect and the would-be science of music emotional responses were invoked by means of thematic creation and manipulation but despite the role of music in the quadrivium in ancient thought music even asn applied sciene remains an art more than a science. I respect the social sciences as being useful and capable of keen insights ... but social sciences do not really have laws like the hard sciences do. There is no social science equivalent to the law of gravity, Newtonian observation about inertia, or observations about chemical interactions. If there are such laws in social sciences they are fraught with interpretive and applicational issues, such as the degree to which conformity should be used in social structuring and directing the thought and actions of individuals or assessing them.

And so it is with music, there is room for great disagreement about what constitutes great music or any great art. You cannot anticipate what may be great art or music and what is great art or music may arise from the quality of design and structure or language or the ideology with which a work may be freighted. Now I love the big novels of Dostoevsky and love how he explores his ideas but I come back to them because in all of his exploration of big ideas he didn't forget his story or his characters. Even Ivan Karamazov is a character and not just a cipher for whatever ideology Dostoevsky wanted to either promote or demote. Dostoevsky was not just an author of ideas, he lived in the world and had to make a living. There is a sense in which the reality of commercial viability separates professionals from amateurs. I am most assuredly an amateur.

Even among professionals, like Haydn, there are moments where great art emerges through experimentation and refinement. Haydn wrote plainly that he had time to experiment to see what worked, what didn't, what evoked emotional response, what evoked bewilderment and through all of these pieces of music he wrote adn all of these performances he was able to refine his art, understand what was likely to evoke what response he might be seeking. Haydn was, in other words, making nearly a science out of the art of selling out. Indeed, in the patronage system of his day what we would call selling out was arguably the acme of developing as an artist. He was able to attain mass popular appeal and please his employer through the same process.

I sometimes wonder if in contemporary society we overvalue artistic credibility and independence. I have been skeptical even from my teens about the propensity of this contemporary Western age to want the rules broken without having any idea what rules might be in place. It would simply matter to break whatever rules there are by breaking something. Paradoxically critics can both reinforce this and avoid it. In the past critics upheld the standards of what styles were acceptable and thus you would get things that ended up in Slonimsky's Lexicon. On the other hand there are those who want whatever is to be overturned. Free verse has become paradigmatic in our era as traditional verse was in earleir times. It was not popular for teachers to point ou tthat the best poets demonstrated a mastery of both conceptions of literature or poetry.

We live in an era in which it is hard to argue that a single unified style exists. That means that it might be possible for someone to compose a Mass based entirely on doo-whop material. It would not, so far as I can tell, be any less pious or appropriate as a means of setting the Mass than many pieces from the tiem of Haydn and Mozart. Sacred choral music, as Rosen put it, presents a challenge because of the two impulses that emerge from sacred texts, the celebration and ritual side of things, and the abstraction of theological content. Since, as the psalmist puts it, we are enjoined to sing to teh Lord a new song, at some point Christian composers must inevitably garpple with all of these things. Only those of the most rigid liturgical approaches make no allowances for new ways of singing the parts of the Mass ... even a Calvinist like Frank Martin composed a setting of the Mass and Calvinists are not, by and large, known for ever tackling that.