Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Old Hymns

Having never been a church goer, I never sang any hymns until becoming a hospice volunteer six or seven years ago. When I'm asked to sing hymns, it's nearly always the old hymns, many of which have been dropped from the newer hymnals (and never were in the Episcopal hymnal, with which I had a little experience as a young child).

Some of the hymns I'm talking about are "Sweet Hour of Prayer", "The Old Rugged Cross", "In The Garden", "What A Friend We Have In Jesus", "The Church In The Wildwood", "Trust and Obey", and "Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior".

I've put these and others in flat keys for our group, and usually down a step or three to make them easier for people to sing. Every time we do them, a few people come up afterwards and fervently thank us for performing them and telling us they never hear them any more and that they mean a great deal to them.

As a therapist these hymns strike me somewhat as the service tunes and patriotic songs the community band plays on Memorial and Veterans Day. Through a lifetime of association, hearing them triggers an emotional reaction in some audience members that can never be matched by something they've not heard before. 

I can understand how church musicians and ministers want to always be exploring new material, but as a therapist these old hymns are a wonderful way to create therapeutic moments for people that grew up with them.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Made In Tibet

Thanks to Lama Tashi for linking this on Facebook. For the nearly 20 years I've been knowing Tibetans, the news from Tibet has just gotten more and more grim. This example of how they maintain their sprit in the face of all that reminds me of what an astonishing people they are.

Art. Emotion & Technique

Here's Terry Teachout's almanac entry for today:

"It is a grotesque misapprehension which sees in art no more than a craft comprehensible perfectly only to the craftsman; art is a manifestation of emotion, and emotion speaks a language that all may understand. But I will allow that the critic who has not a practical knowledge of technique is seldom able to say anything on the subject of real value."

W. Somerset Maugham,
The Moon and Sixpence

I think that some art can only be fully apprehended and appreciated by the community of craftsmen. Musicians and composers with "theory mind" can delight in harmonic and rhythmic complexities (which may or may not be manifestations of emotions) unintelligible to regular people. I do agree with the overall point of the quote, though, and think it's a good way of thinking about teaching music - that the emotion is the point of it all, and that technique is how you get there.