For months now, I’ve been contemplating a series of posts on the possibility of a Mormon aesthetic. I’ve been rereading Kant and Rousseau and Augustine, arguing with Michael Hicks in my head, and contemplating my illustrious career as the great one who definitively articulated the theoretical framework of a Mormon (musical) aesthetic. Last night, sitting in the dark at Stake Conference, I abandoned the notion of writing that piece. Completely. And joyfully.
That’s right, at Stake Conference, in the dark. It snowed all day yesterday in Boston, a heavy, wet snow that brought down a tree onto the power line that feeds the Stake Center. So we had the evening session of conference with only emergency battery back-up lights, flashlights, and a lantern which a brilliant Boy Scout of a Times and Seasons reader (who never comments, but *should*! ahem) just happened to have in his car. I got to turn pages and shine flashlights at music stands, so I was right in the middle of all the music-making, but still able to listen.
The prelude was the middle movement of the Bach double concerto, gorgeous, perfectly played by two world-class violinists. I listened, noticed how beautiful it was, mused on the impossibility of playing that movement as baroque–it is just Romantic, a century ahead of itself. Then there was the congregation, a little confused by the circumstances, but gaining confidence throughout “High on the Mountaintop” (though the words were a little mushy after the first verse). There was talking and some choir pieces performed by a good ward choir which would have been even better if they could have used the organ (I was in a good enough mood not to think too many evil thoughts about the obnoxiousness of partner tunes and the power of one composer to unleash such an idiom on the whole of the church musical scene. Hmmm, ok, well, maybe I did dwell on that a little too much).
More talking, personal and sweet and sometimes funny–funnier and more poignant because we were all together in the dark, talking about the light the gospel brings. More music–a luscious violin arrangement of “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief,” that never lapsed into lugubriousness because it was so expertly played, an astonishing arrangement (and I really mean “astonishing”–my mouth nearly dropped open a couple of times at unexpected and neat effects) for two flutes of “Oh, That I Were An Angel,” surely as Mormon a piece as there ever was.
Then congregational singing again, “Israel, Israel God is Calling,” and a beautiful talk–sincere and elegant at once–with words from the hymn woven into the text as refrain.
Then more ward choirs, now from the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking units of the stake. One could quibble about their technical expertise: there were some notable lapses in intonation, some rhythmic troubles (probably from not being able to see the conductor in the dark!). But they were earnest and well-rehearsed and enthusiastic. In every way that matters, it was absolutely glorious. Just when I thought there could not be a more joyful noise in all the world, there was a new sound that I couldn’t place for a minute. And then I realized the men in the choir were WHISTLING!! The women were singing words and harmony while the men whistled the tune. I thought I would burst from the sheer delight of it. It was all I could do to stay sitting down.
I am pretty sure there’s no theoretical framework robust enough to account for Bach and Larry Beebe and whistling by flashlight. If there is, I’m not going to be the one to articulate it. And I don’t care. I just want to be there shouting hallelujah and amen.