Friday, 25 February 2011

Play it again, and again, and again

We've been on holiday this week and one of the things that we enjoyed was to complete Series Seven of The West Wing, for the -th time. I confess to feeling some kind of embarrassment about saying just how many times we've watched this brilliant tv drama on DVD. Another thing we did was to meet up with our son, Andrew, in London, and see The King's Speech; the second time for us, the first for him. Again, I feel a need to apologise for 'the second time'.

Why my discomfort about seeing something again (and again)? I guess it's because once you've seen a film, like reading a novel, you know what's going to happen. (Also there's probably something around for me about 'wasting time'.) But in my defence - there I go again - although there is some predictability and lack of surprise, the experiences have been just as enjoyable as the first time, albeit different. And repeated viewings still disclose new things, and give depth and richness, that aren't taken in on the first viewing.

My reaction surprises me to some extent, because when it comes to other forms of art, it's a given that to return to a painting or piece of music is a desirable and even necessary thing to do. Reacting to a work of art on first seeing or hearing is vastly different from reflecting upon it.

This last week I've been listening again to the Chaconne from Bach's Partita No. 2 for Solo Violin. Alex Ross, in his latest book, Listen to This, describes it as 'a quarter-hour-long soliloquy of lacerating beauty ... with its white-knuckle virtuosity, its unyielding variation structure, and its tragic D-minor cast.' The first time of listening is an experience of high drama, especially when played by Itzhak Perlman -  available on Spotify - but to appreciate its scale, its architecture, its depth, and the extent of its beauty, requires repeated listening. Significantly, within the piece there is an 'again and again' aspect as it consists of sixty-four variations on a four bar theme.

In The King's Speech, at the climax of the film, as the King addresses the nation at the outbreak of war, the accompanying music is the slow movement of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. The rhythm which defines the music's character and mood, is repeated relentlessly and unapologetically. Music without repetition would be something altogether different.

'Again and again' can be boring within art, but it can be life-giving. And actually, despite our culture's obsession with novelty and newness, 'again and again' is a constant in life. It's a constant of the Christian faith as well. Just one example, 'Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.' And the apostle Paul goes on to comment, 'For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the the Lord's death until he comes.'

How we handle the 'again and again' so that it isn't mere ritual devoid of energy and life, is another matter, but 'again and again' is ok.

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