May 29, 2012

We began another day with a Chamber Music concert; this one opened with a waltz by Josef Lanner (a contemporary of Richard Strauss and one of the original ‘Waltz Kings of Vienna.’  The piece we heard,  Dornbacher Ländler, is among Lanner’s most beloved compositions (for string quartet and piano), and consists of six short dances and a coda.    It was a refreshing treat for a summer morning – sort of like a really elegant slice of cool watermelon.

As a former teacher, current student and life-long ensemble musician, I could talk your ear off (read your eyes out?) about compelling instances of the collective conscious in action. Collective conscious is a social/psychological theory that implies an internal knowing known by all – a consciousness shared by a plurality of persons.  I strongly believe that individuals are connected in myriad ways for which we have no words or explanations, but that we can feel deeply and often if we engage with each other to work toward common goals – we have the ability to tap into something beyond ourselves that exists somewhere in this universe of mysteries.

My own experience with this phenomenon has been in ensemble music making, and I had a profound and exciting experience during the second piece on the chamber music concert – Quintet for Piano and Winds in E-Flat, Op. 16 by Ludwig van Beethoven.  It was performed by Pedja Muzijevic, James Austin Smith, Todd Palmer, Peter Kolkay, and Eric Ruske.  These musicians breathed as one, and my imagination was persistence in perceiving them as a single organism – like a cell whose parts were synchronistic and individual while at once serving the whole.  As much as I tried to focus on the music, I was finding it impossible to stop thinking about a TED talk by Charles Limb. Dr. Limb is a professor of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck surgery at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the faculty at the Peabody Conservatory of Music.  Limb has been searching for a better understanding of how the mind perceives complex auditory stimuli (music), and looks at the brains of improvising musicians to see exactly what parts are involved in certain creative activities.  He found that when jazz musicians were ‘trading fours’, the part of the brain most active was the same region responsible for language and communication – implying that the musicians were doing more than just playing notes back and forth to each other.

I couldn’t help but imagine what the musicians’ brains looked like while they performed the Beethoven work – it was so clear that they were communicating with each other. At the end of the piece, after the second curtain call, Geoff Nuttall addressed the audience and mentioned how incredible it was for the ensemble to have not only technical precision and some of the cleanest playing anywhere, but to imbue into the performance a spirit of improvisation was a special and rare feat that he himself felt lucky to witness.  I had a thrill from the tip of my toes to the top of my head to hear those words – we as the audience had been able to glimpse into something deeper than any individual present and connect disparate thoughts and inspirations because of beautiful art executed with a profusion of spirit.

In the evening, we rehearsed with Dr. Miller for our concert on May 30th at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.

What an extraordinary space – I clapped my hands in true choral director fashion upon entering, and listened with joy at the numerous echoes and the loooong decay. While singing, my attention was to the music at hand, but as soon as there was a chance to indulge in my imaginings, I began picturing the brains of my friends lighting up like galaxies.

In the balcony at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.
(Left to right: Ryan Cassel, Michael Bennett, Johnny Wilson and Dr. Miller)

About Westminster Choir

Westminster Choir is composed of students at Westminster Choir College of Rider University, a center for music study in Princeton, N.J.
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