Tuesday, 27 May 2008
Tuesday, 20 May 2008
The performance wasn’t without a hitch as the robot is unable to respond to the musicians. So during early rehearsals, Asimo - which stands for Advanced Step In Innovative Mobility - slowed the tempo and robot and orchestra separated, something a human would have sensed and compensated for.
The musical director Leonard Slatkin commented, ‘It's not a communicative device; it simply is programmed to do a set of gestures.’ But bassist Larry Hutchinson said that while the movements were a little stiff, they were ‘very humanlike, much more fluid than I thought’.
I couldn't help wondering how many professional musicians, on hearing that an orchestra had been conducted by a robot thought, ‘So, what’s new?’ I suggest that it wasn’t a small number!
Friday, 16 May 2008
On the Saturday evening of the Bromham Baptist Church weekend, I spoke about being a forgiven community but also a forgiving community, and I used a brilliant quote that I came across by Rowan Williams - thanks to Jason Goroncy on Hopeful Imagination - 'one of the oddest things in our culture is that we seem to be tolerant of all sorts of behaviour, yet are deeply unforgiving. The popular media mercilessly display the failings of politicians and celebrities; attitudes to prisoners and ex-prisoners are often harsh; people demand legal redress for human errors and oversights. We shouldn't be misled by an easy-going atmosphere in manners and morals; under the surface there is a hardness that ought to worry us. And this means that when the Church in the Creed and (we hope) in its practice points us to the possibility of forgiveness, it is being pretty counter-cultural'. (Tokens of Trust: An Introduction to Christian Belief). Rowan Williams speaks about the 'scandal of forgiveness', which is apt.
My observation of church life is that while some people find it hard to receive forgiveness, in countless ways we find it harder to forgive and simply won't let go of things. But then there are those who have been sinned against unimaginably, who do let go, and the gospel is illumined powerfully. I'm looking forward to exploring Mozart's 'Marriage of Figaro' as a deep parable of forgiveness.
Communion on Sunday morning was profound as everyone stood in a huge circle and shared bread. One man, a new Christian whose experience of life has been tough, said 'This is the biggest gang I've belonged to.' And it was good to share this part of the weekend with the children and young people who played a full part.
To be away for the weekend and to return home only to go away again for National Settlement Team for three days wasn't great planning on my behalf, but from my perspective it was thoroughly worthwhile, especially to talk about the Church, which continues to be one of the passions in my life.
Wednesday, 14 May 2008
Sometimes the question is asked 'What instrument is the most important?' Answers include the violins in the string family, the flute in the woodwind family, the trumpet in the brass family, and the timpani in the percussion family, but all of these would be heavily contested. There are almost as many answers as there are instruments. I had a friend who passionately argued that the timpani is the most musical instrument in the orchestra. No guesses what instrument he played, and although he is one of the finest timpani players in the country, his argument wasn't convincing.
However, it is true that some instruments have a more prominent role, while others less so. If you go to an opera, keep an eye on the orchestra pit and you will see the brass section disappear, sometimes for long periods of time. Actually every instrument within the score of a musical work is needed, and the most overlooked instrument can be absolutely crucial. Next time you listen to 'The Lark Ascending' imagine it without a triangle.
I played the fugue from the end of Young Person's Guide, and the effect was electric. In the space of less than three minutes, we heard each of the instruments introduced with their different characteristics; how they related to the next instrument once they'd made their entrance; and how Purcell's big tune at the end holds everything together even though it's radically different to all that's happening around it. This spoke powerfully of the unity and huge diversity in the Body of Christ. If you don't know this piece of music, it really is worth a listen and you can download just the final fugue for .79 pence at iTunes, although I'd recommend the piece in its entirety.
I'll share some more thoughts in the next post.
Monday, 12 May 2008
Bromham is a lively, healthy church with a fine minister in Mark Hatto, and it was a pleasure to be with them. I enjoyed mealtimes, meeting with people and hearing their stories. And I enjoyed the overall sense of church being relaxed together, whether it was in the main sessions or the betwee times. People shared testimony on Sunday morning, and while in my experience this can be a mixed blessing, on this occasion is was meaningful and moving. There was an optional session on 'Godly Play', which I have blogged about on CBA Ministers – if you haven't encountered this concept it's well worth checking out. And a pampering room was made available offering foot spas, facials and the like, which was very popular. I didn't make this either!
The focus of the weekend was 'What is Church?' and as I spoke about 'the Church', I looked at a number of images. In one session I drew on Ronald Rolheiser, a North American Catholic priest, teacher and writer, who is a regular columnist on the Catholic Herald. For many years I've been struck with his emphasis upon the necessity to be real about the Church. He speaks with passion about what he terms, 'the confronted life'. His concern, and mine, is that the Christian life doesn't become a fantasy that I can share with a few well-chosen, like-minded individuals. He says, 'Few things stretch the heart as painfully as does church community. Conversely when we avoid the pain and mess of [church] encounter to walk a less painful private road or to gather with only persons of our own kind, the heart need not and generally does not stretch. Going to church is one of the better cardio-vascular spiritual exercises available.'
Rather than make this a long post, I'll share some other comments later.
Tuesday, 6 May 2008
Thursday, 1 May 2008
While the conductor enables, and often brilliantly, he/she only enables the players to carry out his/her will to the best of their ability and artistry. Not so long ago, it was common practice to refer to the conductor as 'maestro' which is says it all in terms of the power that the conductor has. Essentially, the conductor metaphor is one of control - the 100th anniversary this year of the birth of Herbert von Karajan is a reminder of one striking example of such control. Among the great and wonderful conductors, many have been dictatorial, others more benevolent, but whatever their style, they are the interpreter of the music - essentially it is Karajan's Brahms, Sir Colin Davis' Berlioz, and Gergiev's Mahler.
Returning to jazz, and we have something that does work - Bishop Alan picked up on this in a response to a previous post. I came across this comment in something else I was reading on leadership and thought that it was very helpful. It's by Max De Pree, in his book, 'Leadership Jazz':
'Jazz-band leaders must choose the music, find the right musicians, and perform – in public. But the effect of the performance depends on so many things – the environment, the volunteers playing in the band, the need for everybody to perform as individuals and as a group, the absolute dependence of the leader on the members of the band, the need of the leader for the followers to play well. What a summary of an organization!
A Jazz band is an expression of servant leadership. The leader of a jazz band has the beautiful opportunity to draw the best out of the other musicians. We have much to learn from jazz-band leaders, for jazz, like leadership, combines the unpredictability of the future with the gifts of individuals.'
I think this is superb, and for me has far more resonance.
Incidentally, the pictures I've used on the last three blogs are all by Kandinsky, and are entitled ‘Improvisation’, followed by a number – he did loads of them!