"What He ordains for us each moment is what is most holy, best, and most divine for us." Jean-Pierre de Caussade

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Composer's Presence

What began as an ordinary moment in the church service this morning turned into an abnormal occasion before it was over. The choir was to sing "The Cup" by Jan McGuire. We had been practicing for months actually, just waiting for a communion Sunday when the piece would be most appropriate. Well, today was the day. We rehearsed as normal, and then before we headed out of the choir room, one of the altos said, "I emailed Jan McGuire and I think she is coming today." My first thought was, "How exciting!" My second: "Gee, I wished I had practiced more."

As is probably common with any musician playing another's work, one puts his or her own interpretation into it while still trying to remain true to the integrity of the artist. Notes are played as written and rhythms are left intact, but there's a certain amount of "heart" that is left to interpretation. But somehow knowing that Ms. McGuire might be sitting in the congregation, I became acutely aware of HER interpretation. As I played the lengthy introduction, I wondered if I was executing it according to the way she heard it when she first wrote it. Was the "give and take" of the rubato to her liking? Were the sixteenth notes played clearly? Regardless of whatever was happening in that moment, the awareness of the creator of the piece sitting and listening heightened my senses to the music.

My reaction to Ms. McGuire's potential presence surprised me and has left me thinking about it all day. Why would I be so concerned over the execution of a piece I had played dozens of times over the last months? What was it about having the composer in the room that all of a sudden changed the perspective for me? And then I got to thinking about all the other times I have played an anthem or an offertory. Or for that matter, all the times I have taught a Sunday School class or facilitated a woman's Bible study. Have I ever been as concerned about those executions? Why not? Was it because I truly wasn't aware of the watchful eye or listening ear of the Creator?

As it turns out, Ms. McGuire was indeed in the congregation, and when I spoke to her after the service, she was most gracious. Expressed through her tears, she was once again moved by the music and words that had shaken her soul so many years ago upon writing both.

The truth is that the great Creator of the cosmos is always present, too. And He is also most gracious. Yes, He desires excellence and that we play skillfully, and I believe He longs for our senses to be heightened to His presence. But He does not listen with a critical ear. He listens with a heart that loves His creation -- and is blessed by the offering.

Just an ordinary moment...

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