Monday, September 24, 2012

A microcosm of true liberty

Dear Carmen,

For your consideration.

It is not often that the music director at our parish asks us to attempt polyphony --- understandably, for it is rather a lot more work for him, and there aren't really that many of us singing for him.

But in consequence it is not often that (and hence it is notable when) I get to enjoy this particular curious experience: when a singer is able to sing his part near-automatically, he can actually hear the whole music around him even as he is singing it. I am convinced that this --- to hear the whole even while attentively making part of it --- is the true purpose of polyphony.1 It is, I would like to say, a microcosm of true liberty.

What I mean by this: what each voice has to do is well-delineated, and it is necessary that each attend to both the governor and the other voices so far as not to overwhelm or misclash with them; yet at the same time, assignment of parts is done with each singer's particular voice in mind, and singers assigned to the same part do not, must not sing identically --- it is usually necessary to breathe at inopportune moments, and so we support eachother, taking turns. Within the stringently prescribed form, there are deeps to navigate and intelligence to be applied. But, when each knows well-enough how he is to sing his part, he isn't trapped within it, but by the whole is lifted above his own line, and... it's hard to find words for it. If folk could live like that, it should have been a happy shire indeed.

Anyways, that's what I did this Sunday between about 10:30 and 1:30.

vox clamantis in urbis

1) This is not to say this is the true purpose of the art of polyphonic music or its performance --- that were God's Glory; but the particular means chosen by polyphony as opposed to plainchant, for instance.


Amy said...


Belfry Bat said...

I don't know what else to say!

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