In fact, my voice is now slowly coming back, but it’s sketchy enough that I still can’t go public. But writing works. Here are a couple musings that have come to me in the last 24 hours.
In the current The New Yorker, if you read the descriptions of classical music performances that are to take place in the New York City area between April 26 – May 2, you will read the names of 46 performing singers, instrumentalists, and conductors. Guess how many of those are Americans? The answer: 15 or one-third of all the total performers listed. Classical music is clearly not identified by very many Americans as a viable or desirable career.
On another subject, yesterday I chanced upon a TED talk given in April by Pope Francis. I am an atheist, but having a career in choral music, I’ve had to spend many, many Sundays in church. I’ve heard many, many sermons.
And I’m not an easy listener. Having heard so many sermons, the percentage of sermons that stay in my memory for, say, 30 minutes after they’ve been delivered, is frighteningly low – maybe one in 20.
I found Pope Francis’ TED talk (alias sermon) to be unbelievably powerful. And “unbelievably” is, in fact, a carefully chosen word. As I think about what he said and what he considers to be the source for truth, I would never have believed that I would react with such an emotional response. Pope Francis’ religious beliefs bear little resemblance to mine and yet he succeeded in drawing me into his head and heart, so that I believe that what he believes is important.
Have I not just described both a memorably fine sermon and a great piece of music? Like a fine sermon, the ideas and impact of a great piece of music cannot be described or assessed by any scoring system.
Greatness in music and greatness in preaching are determined by the composer or preacher’s ability to communicate on a personal level with many people.
Very occasionally, there is greatness. When that happens, we believe.