Sunday, June 25, 2017

He who would valiant be

He who would valiant be
‘gainst all disaster,
let him in constancy
follow the Master.
There’s no discouragement
shall make him once relent
his first avowed intent
to be a pilgrim.
(John Bunyan, adapted by Percy Dearmer)
Having played Bach for all of my organ voluntaries for the four weeks ending with Trinity Sunday, I determined to improvise all voluntaries for the summer at both the 9:00 and 11:00 services: piano and organ. I hoped that sustained effort might result in some skill development, sorely lacking at the organ and still much needed at the piano.

The prospect of this work scares me about as much as anything I have attempted musically. How am I going to practice? How can I improvise this much and not drive away the 11:00 congregation? Are they going to put up with my learning curve, which will doubtless be steep? How dare I put my music ahead of the likes of JSB, or Paul Manz, or Kenton Coe, or John Stanley (whose voluntaries would be much easier to prepare for a summer Sunday than improvisations)?

Well. Nothing for it but to give it a try.

Week I, ending with June 18

On this first week, my practice time is limited by preparations for Saturday’s Gay Pride Parade, in which our parish has a float. On the float: the Palm Sunday Marching Band in its second public appearance, having expanded its repertoire well beyond “All glory, laud, and honor.”

For the uninitiated, the PSMB is a group of (mostly) middle-school bandswomen and men. Our group this time consisted of three clarinets, oboe, alto saxophone, trombone, and a band/choir mother walking alongside the float playing recorder. For safety’s sake, we play everything in unison, though that puts the alto sax in a not-so-comfortable tessiatura.

The parade was terrific fun. People cheered, many sang along with us.

But I was not as prepared for Sunday as I would have liked, especially for this first Sunday of my summer’s work. The piano prelude at 9:00 went well; it is here on SoundCloud.

The organ? Not so much. For a prelude, I improvised on the fine tune East Acklam (“For the fruit of all creation, thanks be to God”). It was thoroughly conventional. Dull. And too long for what little imagination there was in it. At least it was soft and hopefully inoffensive. The postlude was better, based on Paderborn (“Ye servants of God, your Master proclaim”). It was lively and had some good moments, though the big ending that was the direction it wanted was about four bars too long. Still, it was a start: big endings are notoriously difficult – certainly for me, but even the Real Composers sometimes have problems.

Week II, ending with June 25

Well. How does one practice?

On the face of it, no problem: I have described my improvisation practicing here, complete with YouTube example. But how does that work out when this sort of practice is all that I am doing, all week – for that matter, all summer?

His eye is on the sparrow:
I sing because I’m happy,
I sing because I’m free,
For his eye is on the sparrow,
And I know he watches me.
(Civilla D. Martin)
This is the piano prelude, for we are singing this fine old Gospel song at both services. It gives me another opportunity to Play the Changes, this time with a longer and more challenging chord structure.

Perversely, the improvisation seems to want the key of G flat major. I try playing it from the printed version (C major, a fully written out SATB hymnal version with chord symbols) and stumble along with it all week, until in exasperation I write out a lead sheet version in G flat. To make it more fun, I use alto clef, because the tune fits the staff better that way. If nothing else, the week has taught me the value of lead sheets. The written harmony parts are a distraction for this sort of work, and as much as I like the Roman numeral chord designations (I, IV, V, etc.), the letter-name chord symbols are less subject to error in this context. I even discover why the jazzmen often make enharmonic changes that seem strange to a classically-trained player, for I quickly replace the IV chord (C flat major) with B major, totally foreign to the key but something I’m more likely to play correctly on the fly.

After Matins on Saturday, I give it the T. Monk treatment – just shy of two hours. At first it remains cheesy, the sort of backgroundish Baptist communion music that I once could play well. At about the one-hour mark, it becomes more interesting. I find myself in what is almost a bop version, a four-against-three walking bass line with syncopated melody. This is fun, so I stay with it for several variations, but my chops are definitely not ready to do this in public. From there it gets slow and much more dissonant. I find that I can pretend the alto clef is treble and play the tune as C mixolydian, while still playing the G flat chord pattern (well, mostly). Thinking of how much other work lies ahead, I round it off with a final play-through of the tune, soft and meditative. It is good; I hope I can find this place on Sunday morning.

That is one of the problems for the improviser. You find the magic, the unexpected insights into the tune, but the gold is mixed with the dross. How can you get to it when the congregation is not going to patiently listen to you stumble around for an hour or more? How can you play the good stuff and not any of the bad stuff?

The best I can say is that this sort of long-form practicing puts enough material into the Cauldron of Song (with homage to JRRT’s Cauldron of Story) so that the unconscious can work with it through the week – I suspect much of this work occurs as we sleep – and on Sunday we can perhaps be sufficiently transparent so that the Holy Spirit can use us for Her divine purposes.

Another problem is that some of the more bizarre material (such as the bitonal variations) would not make sense to listeners who had not walked the long path to that point in the music. I do not yet see how to get there in the time frame of a service prelude. Perhaps the value of it for practice is that it builds confidence that no matter how strange the material you stumble into, you can do something with it, and that something might be more worthwhile than all the rest of the piece.

My almost-two-hours complete, I am exhausted. “We come to practice as warriors,” says Steven Pressfield. It is time for an Alexander lay-down exercise. A re-exposure to the Alexander Technique by means of an AGO chapter program this spring and the book I read after that taught me the importance of the exercise at this point, after practice. The authors say to practice twenty minutes, then do the lay-down for twenty minutes. I have trouble imagining any professional musician with enough time for that, but I have this spring and summer made it habitual to do a five or ten minute lay-down after each hour of work. Or in this case, longer – that is part of why I am so tired.

On this day, I make it a full twenty-minute laydown, followed by Second Breakfast, a hobbitish custom I happily embrace. It is well over an hour before I am ready for another round.

He who would valiant be:

This week’s hymnody puts the question to my premise. There is a fine setting by Leo Sowerby of St. Dunstan’s (“He who would valiant be,” the opening hymn at 11:00) which I could play for a prelude, and it would be superior to anything I could possibly improvise. Worse still, the closing hymn is Ein feste Burg (“A mighty fortress”). That one puts me in competition with the whole array of German Lutheran composers, up to unplayable (for me) masterpieces such as Max Reger’s fantasia on this tune. More practically, there is a setting by Michael Praetorius that I have played many times. It likewise is superior to anything I could improvise. Right up to the bulletin deadline, I ask myself: Am I really going to do this? Shouldn’t I give up, and play the repertoire based on these tunes? That would put me right back to where I have been all these years – scrambling from one week to the next to prepare repertoire, always wanting to improve but never having sufficient practice time for something that is clearly optional to my work.

This fortnight, I have applied the same improvisatory practice techniques to these hymn tunes at the organ, but it became quickly evident that the music must go in a different direction from what it would be at the piano. The organ seems to demand more counterpoint. It is coloristic, more perhaps than the piano but in quite a different manner. One thing that is requiring work is to think ahead about registrations. I find myself playing with one hand while setting a registration on the other manual for music that has not yet come into existence – that is, I have only a vague notion as to what I might play for the next bit. But the registration helps create it when the time comes. That too is a surprising insight.

After initial work early in the week on each tune separately, I am finding that on the final days it is well to simply work through the 11:00 service, beginning to end. This Saturday, I improvise on St. Dunstan’s for a half-hour or so, then recall that I was intending – and had practiced and intended all week – to work Wer nun den lieben Gott (“If thou but suffer God to guide thee”) into the prelude as a contrasting theme, so I do – in this case as a coda of about twenty minutes.

After all that, playing St. Dunstan’s as the opening hymn is easy; I need only stay in the printed key and keep the tempo slow, probably much slower than I am thinking of it for improvisation.

Following a brief Alexander break, I work through the other hymns and service music, experimenting with an improvised introduction to Wer nun den lieben Gott. That too becomes easy after having worked with the tune at length through the week.

I finish the “pretended-service” with the congregational version of Ein feste Burg, and launch into improvisation on it. Again, the good stuff does not arrive for about twenty minutes.

June 25 - Sunday Scorecard:

The piano improvisation on “His eye is on the sparrow” is here.

Some of it is pretty good. I particularly like the “bass” solo on one of the stanzas, and the final time fully through the tune, taking a lot more time with it. As with last Sunday, I should have stopped four bars sooner.

Perhaps the real benefit of working on this one tune so much, probably four or five hours this week, came not at the 9:00 service where I improvised on it, but at 11:00. I lost count of the stanzas (a constant danger, especially for hymns that finish with a refrain or chorus) and kept playing after the congregation was done. It became clear that I should continue, as a coda of sorts. People started humming along, and it was absolutely right, the thing that was needed for that moment in the liturgy. I would not have played it as well without the practicing.

Both of the organ improvisations went well. I kept them fairly simple, conservative and brief, and they were more interesting than the ones from last week, though a bit sloppy in places. I will take “sloppy” over “dull” (e.g., last Sunday’s prelude) any day. Here is a SoundCloud clip combining the prelude and postlude.

[a technical footnote: There is a brand-new computer in the music office, running Windows 10. But Microsoft has done away with Windows Movie Maker, which I used to make MP4 clips to post on YouTube. I do not know how to work around this, so my YouTube channel may be finished. It is for now, anyway.]


Four insights:

1. This work will make me a better organist. After a mere fortnight, there is considerable improvement. Were I to practice every hymn in this manner, every week, my hymn playing would be transformed.

2. Improvising is not a shortcut. Yes, I can sit down at the organ or piano and play something without preparation. The results are not dissimilar from what would happen if I sight-read my normal preludes and postludes without working out fingerings and practicing them.

3. It pleases me that I managed to play the two organ pieces without sounding – well, like anyone that I can think of. There is certainly influence from a great many sources in these things. But I cannot readily say “This sounds like [fill in the blank].”

4. I have little sense as to where this will lead.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Three Practices

What is a practice anyway?

To “have a practice” in yoga, say, or tai chi, or calligraphy, is to follow a rigorous, prescribed regimen with the intention of elevating the mind and the spirit to a higher level.

A practice implies engagement in a ritual. A practice may be defined as the dedicated, daily exercise of commitment, will, and focused intention aimed, on one level at the achievement of master in a field but, on a loftier level, intended to produce a communion with a power greater than ourselves…
[Steven Pressfield: “Turning Pro” (Black Irish Books, 2012), p. 120]
I observe three practices. They define and structure my days. Other work is important and at times pushes one or more practice to the sidelines – but not entirely off the field of play. At my best, the practices take precedence and other work flows around them. They are: Physical, Spiritual, Musical.

Physical Practice
The physical leads to the spiritual. The humble produces the sublime. (ibid., p. 116)
Without attention to the physical, I cannot for long continue my musical work, or (for that matter) life. This means adequate sleep, exercise, healthy food and water. The details of my practice are not important, and will certainly differ from yours. What matters is to do something, pretty much every day. Walk. Lift weights. Do yoga or Pilates. Play outdoor games and sports (indoor sports, too). Swim. Cycle. Dig a garden bed. Climb a mountain. I am old, and my physical practice is rather more modest than most of these things. But it is daily.

I am indebted to my fellow-laborer in Christ (and yoga instructor) Nora, for the insight that exercise and other aspects of the physical can be a spiritual practice. Movement and breath open spiritual doors that are perhaps impossible to unlock in other ways.

Spiritual Practice
Operi Dei nihil praeponatur. Prefer nothing ahead of the Work of God.
(Rule of St. Benedict: Opus Dei, the Work of God, was the term Benedict used for the cycle of prayer that comprises the Daily Office.)
The foundation and framework of spiritual practice is the Daily Office. In the Anglican/Episcopal tradition, the cornerstones are Matins (Morning Prayer) and Evensong (Evening Prayer), with the Little Hours: Midday Prayer and Compline. All of these services are near the front of the Book of Common Prayer.

The Daily Office is too much; at times it seems to set too high of a standard to pray all of these services, every day, and many people might not find them helpful at all. At the same time, the Office is not enough. St. Benedict emphasized in his Rule that they can exist only in the context of work: Ora et labora, Prayer and Work. And community: spiritual practice may have a strong solitary element, but cannot survive without connection to the wider Church – for example, the Holy Eucharist on Sundays and participation in congregational life, mission, and service.

There are other paths to spiritual practice, more paths than one could explore in a lifetime. Whatever form a spiritual practice might take, it seems important that it include prayer and the reading of Holy Scripture, with generous helpings of both elements. It should also lead to Conversion of Life, another Benedictine concept. Continual exposure to prayer and Scripture with a willing heart and mind almost of necessity will result in some changes in one’s life, bringing one slowly, almost imperceptibly, closer to the Image of Christ, the fullness of being for which God created us. It is very much like the result of physical practice – steady attention to healthy diet and exercise over time changes who we are.

I would commend physical and spiritual practice to everyone. The third practice is a part of my specific vocation; there are obviously many other callings. I suspect that most any of them can be undertaken as a path toward spiritual wholeness, but I can speak for only the one I have walked:


Musical Practice
Practice makes perfect.
As with the others, the details of my musical practice are not important (except to me), and I have written of them elsewhere.

What matters for music is strikingly similar to the other practices: do something pretty much every day. Work in an orderly manner. Be patient, for progress will be slow, perhaps imperceptible. And for music to be a spiritual path, simply be open to the possibility as you work at it. Much of the time, you might not sense any spiritual connection – you might be too busy being a conduit for spiritual healing to those who hear you. But there will likely be times when it is so strong that you cannot miss it.

A musical practice cannot happen without the other two. Without the physical, the instrument (you, that is) falls apart in short order: physical or mental breakdown, repetitive motion injuries. Without the spiritual, the music quickly becomes about oneself, about pride and applause and getting one’s way, and it ceases to be real music that can bring healing to the universe. In the same manner, spiritual practice is strengthened by music: “he who sings prays twice,” as Augustine said. Many forms of physical practice are amenable to music, which can make a hard workout more enjoyable or a meditative workout more open to the Spirit.

Most aspects of these three practices are simple. But they are not easy. They demand a lot of time, and the Adversary (Hebrew: Ha-Satan) always has things for us that seem more important, more urgent. More fun. And easier, with the instant gratification that no genuine practice can offer. “Wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat.” (Matthew 7:13)


Three thoughts that might help:

Habits – build specific times into your day and week for these things. Do them every day, whether you feel like it or not. After a few months, you will have a compulsion to do the practice at the time when you normally do it. Rejoice and be glad in this.

Placeholders – if you don’t feel like doing it, or have something else you must do, try to keep a toehold in the practice. If you cannot face an hour of exercise, do just one thing, maybe five minutes. The same goes for other practices – if you can’t pray Matins, see if you can say the Lord’s Prayer at the time when you would habitually pray. If you can’t countenance two or three hours at the organ and piano, do five minutes of scales or improvisation. The placeholder keeps the practice habit where it belongs, and very often, once you can get started, you find that you can keep going after all.

When you fall down, get back up – Even with strong habitual practices, we fail. We miss a day. And another. Maybe a whole week. Or more, perhaps a lot more. The longer we are absent from a practice, the harder it is to get back into it, but so long as life lasts, it is not impossible. The secret is to start over again. Today. Now. If we have once established a practice, it will come back to us, like riding a bicycle after many years. The Church builds in two seasons especially for this purpose: Advent and Lent. Both of them are occasions to rebuild what has fallen down, to shake off the dust and get moving again. They last long enough to establish – or re-establish – a good habit. But we can do this at any time, and must do it as often as we fall.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Part Four: Whitsunday

Learning is nonlinear.

My intention of learning to “play the changes” in jazz style on “As the wind song in the trees” ran aground on the hard reality of Sunday morning, which arrived well before I had mastered the skill. But it is all right; I did learn from the week’s work. In some respects, it is better than all right; parts of this morning’s improvisation were indeed “playing the changes” – improvised lines over the chords of “As the wind song.” These parts were incorporated into a larger whole that made for a better piece of music than it would have been had I been strict about staying with the changes.

Here is a link to the improvisation, on SoundCloud.

Even my work on Song of the Holy Spirit bore fruit; I did not use it in the improvisation, but it made my accompaniment of the congregation’s singing more interesting than it would have otherwise been. So was “As the wind song,” when it came time for everyone to sing it.

What did sneak in was Veni, Creator Spiritus, which was not part of this service. But we had sung it at Matins upstairs in the chapel and it came to mind when it came time to begin the improvisation and seemed to make a good introduction.

And then there was Bach. At the later service, I played the two organ settings of Komm, heiliger Geist which begin the Leipzig Chorales, and both of them went pretty well – better than they would have been without all the time I have spent listening and thinking about Keith Jarrett and jazz ballads and playing the changes. I have played these chorale settings many times over the years – and never so well as I did today.

I sense that I have been stuck at about the same level with my playing for a while, both at the piano and the organ. In the past few weeks, both have been in more of a flux, and I think I am making progress. Not in a linear manner, to be sure, and with setbacks. But discernible progress: yes, I think so.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Here is the link to one of the organ settings, the soft trio version of Komm, heiliger Geist, BWV 652. I am posting this rather than the BWV 651 toccata because there are many more settings of the latter than the former on YouTube. I might as well improve the balance.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Part Three: A multitude of Angels

Friday: The Martyrs of Lyon – Blandina and her Companions
In this day’s mail: Keith Jarrett’s 4-CD album “A multitude of angels.” In 1996, weakened and discouraged by a then-undiagnosed ailment, he played four solo improvisatory concerts in Italy over the span of a week: Modena, Ferrara, Torino, Genova. These four concerts would be the last, and he knew it.

The past fortnight has shown me that I needed more of Jarrett’s music. There is much on YouTube, including many of his more famous solo concerts from Vienna, Paris, Tokyo. I hesitated to spend $40, but from what I read of them, I was drawn to this album, not least by the title. I wanted to see what the twenty years since the Köln Concert – the only one of his albums that I know well – had taught him.

“A multitude of angels” was not released in 1996, or any time thereafter – not until last summer, 2016, another twenty years down the road. The best I can tell, Jarrett, unable to play the piano at all in the aftermath of these concerts, could not until fairly recently bring himself to listen to the recordings, which he had made himself on a DAT recorder.

I began with the first CD, the concert at Modena. Immediately it was clear that he had grown quite a lot. The first half, some thirty minutes of continuous music, was a clear descendant of Köln and his other concerts of the 1970’s, but more mature and focused. More classically-oriented, as well, perhaps from all of the Bach and Handel and Mozart he had performed over the intervening years.

But it was the second half, after intermission, that floored me. It begins in a spiky, energetic mode – precisely the sort of thing I sought the other day, taken to a much higher level. Some of the critics probably called it “atonal,” as they do with this style when he plays it; it did not seem so to me in the strict Schoenbergian sense, for it was more pan-diatonic and felt like it related to a key center, but its home was very much in the twentieth/twenty-first century classical music language with only an occasional hint of jazz in the rhythms. Astringent non-triadic lines and sonorities, all at breakneck pace and energy. And he builds it up for fifteen minutes and more. Gradually it becomes a bit more “major-keyish.” And triumphant; it is as if he has fought his way through to something neither he nor the audience could have foreseen. And then it becomes a hymn. There is no other word for it. It ends in peace, on a soft tonic chord repeated several times in the low register.

No wonder he could not go on after something like this! He managed to get himself back on the bench for an encore: a heartfelt and gentle playing of “Danny Boy.”

Even now, writing this the following day, I cannot get over it. I do not think I have heard such ferocious Connection between soul and music anywhere else. I am almost afraid to listen to the Modena CD again, much less the other three. For he went on to Ferrara and somehow found the energy to play again, two days later. He attributes it to the “angels” who were with him.

Yes, it has been done before. I wonder if Liszt’s improvisations were on this order – I think of something like the “Weinen, Klagen” that I played at the organ, ending likewise with a hymn. Or whatever it was that Bruckner improvised in London as a full-length concert at the organ (perhaps along the lines of one of his symphonies), the crowd carrying him from the hall on its shoulders when he finished?

But nobody, including Jarrett himself, is doing this now, not so far as I know. I listened on YouTube to the Carnegie Hall concert, played quite a bit more recently as a solo piano event, but broken into multiple shorter improvisations. It seems to me that the magic is gone.

Perhaps where it can be found for Jarrett now, or so it seems to me, is when he plays with his friends – the album “Jasmine” (2010, recorded in 2007) with his old friend and bassist Charlie Haden, and many concerts and recordings with his trio – the one I have purchased is a live concert “Somewhere” (2013, recorded in 2009). These are all treatments of jazz standards, “American Songbook” pieces, and they are wonderful.

My guess is that among his “angels” were these his musical colleagues. It may have been their support that made it possible for him to figure out how he could once again play the piano. But most of all, it was his wife, who stuck with him through the dark days. He writes in the liner notes:
I swear: the angels were there.
One reason I know this is because, after waiting twenty years to give these concerts a serious listen again, there is no other reason I can give for the unbelievable experience I re-entered. They took theiur places aside of me and urged me, gently, to go on. After these concerts were over, I couldn’t play at all for two years and, without the support of the one angel in my house, I may never have played again.
It saddened me quite a lot to learn from his Wikipedia biography that they divorced in 2010, after thirty years of marriage.

I bought the “Multitude of Angels” album plus "Jasmine" and "Somewhere" in hopes of learning from Jarrett. Perhaps they will bear fruit in that way, though the Modena concert is so far beyond me that it is like the Bach pieces I am playing this weekend. As I have written in these pages, I have in my practicing played little “etudes” in imitation of Vaughan Williams and Howells and others, and have learned much from them. But never Bach.

The other day I said in passing that I wish I could play like Jarrett. I must make that more precise; I do not want to be an imitation Jarrett. The thing that I wish for in playing “like” him is to play with his Connection and intelligence and skill, in whatever manner is appropriate for me given my place and time and background.

On my office door are pictures of two musicians: J. S. Bach for obvious reasons, and Anton Bruckner, seated at a piano – partly for love of his music, partly for the example of his perseverance and for his devout Catholic faith which shines through every phrase. This weekend, I have added a third: Keith Jarrett.

I have added him to my daily prayers as well. It is a little thing, for I cannot do any great thing for him. But he is a spiritual man and would perhaps welcome such energies as might come to him through the prayers of others. I hope so.

[Added later:] Not for the first time, I marvel that it is a pianist who blows me away with the quality of his playing and musicianship, and the intensity of his Connection. Not an organist. For that matter, not a classical pianist.

I do not like most of the organ playing I hear (including my own). I can think of some people from a slightly earlier generation for whom my admiration approached what I have here expressed about Mr. Jarrett - David Craighead for one, and Del Disselhorst, my friend, with his playing of Bach. John Ferguson and Paul Manz with their hymn playing. Not many others.

But no one from my generation. And most of the younger players, the ones whose publicity photos grace the American Organist and who play for the conventions, leave me completely cold.

The answer to that is simple: Be that person. Play with such intensity that you become a fully transparent window into the heavenly places.

Jesu, juva.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Playing the Changes - Part Two

It is better to play one tune for twenty-four hours than twenty-four tunes in an hour. (Bill Evans, quoted by Dave Frank)
Wednesday: the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to St. Elizabeth
For several years, I worked in my office a couple of mornings a week, eavesdropping on the Beginning Jazz Improvisation class next door in the music room. That is now bearing fruit, for most of the concepts I am learning this week are not entirely new to me.

In those days, I heard a lot of the tune “Summertime, and the livin’ is easy” – every week for a semester, and again the next year, and the year after that. Each fall, the new class was given the assignment of learning the tune and improvising on it. Each week, they would do it in a new key. In the class sessions, they would go around the room, each player/singer taking a four or eight bar phrase as a “solo.”

With that in mind plus my experience that in “learning” a tune, it is not your own until you can play it in other keys, I took the “Wind song” tune into E flat this morning. Sure enough, the initial struggles to control the chord progression returned with added intensity – I found it necessary to explicitly write out the chord progression in the new key – but once I got past that, it opened some doors that I would not have found staying in G major. I think I can work it into my Sunday improvisation; I could start in E flat, and the move to G later on would be refreshing. It was for me, at least.

There was no opportunity for the extended work I gave to it on Tuesday, beyond my usual half-hour at the piano before Matins; it was fifteen minutes here, twenty there. But on the whole, it was a day of considerable progress; I have advanced to sounding like a cliché-ridden pop pianist playing soupy background music.

Thursday: The Feast of Justin Martyr

Lots of Bach today; the two settings of Komm, heiliger Geist from the Leipzig Chorales on Sunday. Keith Jarrett talks somewhere about the difficulty of shifting between the classical and jazz mindsets; he said (I think) that he would never attempt both in the same program. I see his point, certainly, but I suspect he might agree with me that the two mindsets help one another. In my specific case, the perfection and compositional intensity of Bach stands in judgement at my poor improvisatory efforts, a reminder as to how far I have to go.

Mike Garson said in his videos something to this effect: “When I was young, I thought I understood maybe eighty percent of what there is to know about music. Now [he is around 70] I feel like what I understand is more like three percent. And less every year.” Amen to that.

Later in the day, I had a solid session at the piano; ninety minutes or so. I continued work on the “wind song” tune, and started considering more seriously how it might fit into a Sunday improvisation. I played a sample piece with introduction in G major, the tune in E flat, modulating to G, coda.

It is too quiet. Monochromatic. Boring.

I played around with Abbot’s Leigh, which is in the service and could be a contrasting tune. It didn’t seem to fit. Near the end of my session, I felt the need to play Song of the Holy Spirit (“A mighty sound from heaven,” 230 in the Hymnal 1982), which is the opening hymn on Sunday. I know that tune well, having struggled with it for past Whitsundays. It was a considerable relief to play something spiky and loud, so I stayed with it for about twenty minutes, taking the tune through six or eight keys. None of this careful work with a fixed chord progression, not for this. I reveled in alternate harmonies, most of them dissonant, definitely non-triadic.

I am left with a jumble, and no clear sense as to what I will play on Sunday. But now I have some materials at hand. And (if I go with Song of the Holy Spirit as part of what I play) it will not be soupy background music. What it will be remains to be seen.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Playing the Changes - part one

We come to practice with humility. (Steven Pressfield)
This Sunday’s songs include “As the wind-song through the trees,” a marvelous text by Shirley Erena Murray with tune by Swee Hong Lim. It is what amounts to a ballad, complete with written-in chords, one to a bar.

It is perfect for “playing the changes,” a skill I want to learn. Normally I work from the other direction, starting with the tune and seeing what develops from it; in jazz and pop improvisation (blues also), the tune is certainly in mind, but you are working with a fixed chord progression (the “changes” as they call it) – especially if you are in an ensemble, where the other people will be playing the chords and you can’t go wandering off in your own direction. Improvisations tend to start with the changes, and the right hand makes a new melody that fits them. This is done by working within the appropriate scale for the progression. More advanced players add chromatics and all sorts of other things, but the scale remains the foundation.

So, to work. For this, I needed Dave Frank’s beginning lessons, the first of which is here. I watched the first and second lessons over my second breakfast, and took the song upstairs. I set the metronome at 60 to a quarter note and took off.

It was horrible. And that was a good thing.

The musician must never fear making a fool of himself. That is the only way you can learn anything new. But it remains painful to stumble around. My work for the week is not even as complex as what Mr. Frank is doing on his videos; it is a simple song in G major with six chords. Triads, mind you, not even seventh chords (though it is easy enough to add the sevenths to them). No key changes – “Planet G” as Mr. Frank would say, beginning to end.

Play the chords to a steady rhythm in the left hand – for a while at first, this was all I attempted, no right hand at all – then play any notes from the G major scale in the right hand, in eighth notes with some “swing.” Stay with the groove. Make phrases with clear-cut endings and a breath before the next phrase. Two-bar phrases. Four-bar phrases. Nothing fancy.

I did this for about twenty minutes, stopping for staff meeting. Later on I did it for another hour, all on the same tune, the same set of chord changes with the metronome. It got better, a little. After a while I expanded beyond eighth notes to some triplets and syncopations and “straight” eighth notes mixed in, and a bit of countermelody in the inner voices. There were a few stretches where it sounded fairly decent. Then I would lose control of the chords and play something outside of the given progression. Or a chromatic note outside of G major would slip into the right hand. I kept going.

My goal: “play the changes” on this tune on Sunday for the middle service piano improvisation. If I can find one or two hours a day, I might make it to a fairly acceptable standard. Any musician who happens to hear it – such as the professor of jazz from the university, who often attends that service – will find all sorts of mistakes. At best, it will sound like a third-rate cocktail lounge pianist on a bad day. I will certainly feel like a bumbling unmusical idiot when I am finished.

The thing is, I could improvise on this tune in my usual manner with little difficulty; I have done so on past Sundays, several times. It would be better than what I am likely to give the people (and my Lord and Teacher) on Sunday.

But my sense is that I need to give this a try.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Paying my Dues, Making Mistakes

I have worked through the Mike Garson video masterclass, as I described here. At this distance, the most valuable lesson he taught me was how to practice improvisation, working from two directions: short etudes, as little as fifteen or thirty seconds, and extended “playing around” with a tune, an idea he learned from Thelonious Monk. That, and Garson’s attitude toward music as a gift from a higher power, and the responsibility that entails: gratitude, humility, helping and healing others with our music.

Recently, I found another “teacher” – Dave Frank, whose “school of jazz” is here. He has a series of free “masterclass” videos; I have watched two so far. They are enjoyable, and I got some ideas from both of them.

One of them was on the playing of Keith Jarrett, whom Frank calls “the greatest pianist of the recorded era.” As he explains, we cannot compare Jarrett’s improvisations with Bach’s, or Beethoven’s, or Chopin’s, for they made no recordings. But he is the best that we have had since it became possible to make recordings, in any genre – jazz, classical, whatever.

I am not prepared to agree with that, though Frank presents a convincing argument. But Jarrett is definitely one of the best. In some respects, his LP “Köln Concert” (the highest-selling solo piano recording of all time, over 2 million copies) planted the seed for what I attempt in my little piano improvisations. [Here is a YouTube version, one of many: this one includes a transcription of the first twenty-five minutes – the first side of the two LPs]

Jarrett’s improvisations were on the grandest of scale, and these concerts established his fame beyond the narrow circles of jazz enthusiasts. I purchased the album in the 1970’s when it first came out, and I pretty much wore it out. I still have it. I had never heard anything like it; Mike Garson’s “Now” music comes closest, and perhaps closer to what I do, for Jarrett explicitly quotes no pre-existing tunes and I do, always, for my work can exist only in the context of the Divine Liturgy and its music.

Yes, I would love to play like Keith Jarrett. Or like Mike Garson. So would a lot of other pianists. But there is a problem; I haven’t paid my dues. In this documentary, Jarrett said that the place where he learned most of his jazz tunes was the club in the Poconos where he played in his early teens. No one was listening, so he would learn tune after tune. Garson played a lot of club gigs, too, with few listeners and minimal pay, before he connected with David Bowie.

I haven’t done that. I do not know the jazz standards or the styles – which would take years of careful listening and imitation – and I will never be able to play in that manner.

But, as I considered these things, I realized that yes, I have paid some dues. This morning, the parish presented me with a certificate because I had mentioned to a friend that this is my fortieth year of working with choirs. More to the point, the youth choir sang me a song with lyrics they had written for the occasion.

Forty years. That is somewhere above two thousand Sundays. Plus weddings, funerals, revival meetings, Holy Weeks, Christmas Eves. And the practicing that goes with it.

That counts as “dues.” They are simply in a different school than the jazz club or the rock-and-roll band. I don’t know the jazz standards or the pop tunes, but I have learned a few hymn tunes along the way. I have not played in combos, which is where jazz skills are really developed (so far as I can tell), but I have been a part of a great many choral rehearsals, and I have collaborated with first-rate musicians and learned much from them, most recently Jean Littlejohn.

My Sunday morning piano improvisations are a continuing school, and the daily preparations for them the “homework.” I am grateful for my teachers, very glad to learn from these my fellow musicians, near and far.

Here is where I am on the journey:

All things bright and beautiful: Rogation Sunday 2017 (this morning).

I have put this on Soundcloud as an experiment. There are advantages – it is strictly audio, which saves me the most troublesome part of preparing a YouTube clip, which is locating pictures. I can post under a Creative Commons License. And you can download it, listen to it offline, put it on a CD, whatever you want to do with it. [Edited to add: I changed my profile name over there to "T. Andrew Hicks," because a Soundcloud search turns up a long list of other "Andrew Hickses", most of whom appear to be much younger than I, and who have a wide variety of musical interests.]

There will surely be disadvantages: I am limited to three hours of music without upgrading to a paid account. I note that as soon as I finished playing my track, it jumped immediately to another, by a pop musician named Travis Scott who appears to be “trending,” as they like to say. His work has no relation whatsoever to mine and I found the transition rather jarring. Clearly, Soundcloud would rather you listen to him than to me.

So it goes. As I read this week, “If you aren’t paying anything, you are not the customer. You are the product.”

In any event, my tentative plan is to put a few piano improvisations on Soundcloud, and leave other sorts of music (choral, organ) on YouTube. I want to be absolutely certain that no one can claim copyright on my Soundcloud material – as YouTube regularly does on any organ music I post, especially (for some reason) my playing of Bach. That lets someone else make money from ads. I do not like this.

Toward the end of today’s work on “All things,” I had a bit of extra “instruction” in the School of Improvisation. While moving my left hand up the piano, I accidentally struck an F natural (you can hear it at the 11’30” mark). In the key of D major.

Keith Jarrett said in the documentary that this is one of the hardest aspects of solo improvisations: whatever notes or ideas you play, you have to respond to them. I think the fear of such moments is what keeps many people from learning to improvise.

Well, you just go ahead and respond. I was limited by time, for I had to finish up within another minute or so, but I think I brought it around well enough. In retrospect, an analyst could say that it echoes the section earlier in the piece where I was in D minor. I can only say that I absolutely had no intention of doing that. And I can say that it made the ending more interesting – and better – than what I had intended. It does not always turn out that way – last week’s improvisation had some good music in places, but the bitonal direction the improvisation took in the middle was too jarring, and on the whole it proved to be not so good.

How do you learn to deal with such things? It comes in the practice sessions, when you are playing the tune for a half hour or longer at a time.

I had much trouble controlling this tune, so I was diligent this week, and made lots of “mistakes” along the way – and thus practiced working my way out of them.

I can well imagine young Keith Jarrett in that Poconos club making “mistakes” on new tunes as he learned them and working through them – in public – even though most of the public was paying no attention. That developed the skill and courage it took for him to walk onstage at places like Carnegie Hall, or the Royal Albert Hall, or La Scala with no preconception as to what he would do. Just him and the piano; sit down and play. For thirty or forty minutes, or an hour. An intermission, and a second improvisation. With a capacity audience, most of them enthusiasts who paid a lot for tickets, perhaps travelled far, expecting something miraculous like the Köln Concert. And the critics, who were often unkind to him.

I write in the past tense, for I learned that Jarrett no longer does extended concert improvisations of this sort. He had a physical/nervous breakdown in the late 1990’s, diagnosed as “chronic fatigue syndrome,” because these things were so hard on him. He took two years off entirely, and returned to the stage doing shorter-form pieces, jazz standards, etc.

Jarrett paid his classical dues as well, with a strong background in that area as a child prodigy, studying with Eleanor Sokoloff and others at the Curtis Institute before he got into jazz. He performed as a classical pianist for nearly thirty years alongside his other music-making.

I think I would like him. He is reclusive, living in an old farmhouse in New Jersey, the barn converted to a music studio. His life away from the piano is disciplined, simple, because he is all about the music. As I wish to be. What he would think of me is another matter; by most accounts he is notoriously prickly, and in general has a low opinion of classical musicians, probably lower still of church musicians, if he thinks of us at all.

It might be that we could find a point of contact in Bach. He has recorded the Goldberg Variations; I have performed them at least. He has likewise recorded both volumes of the Well-Tempered Clavier, plus the French and English Suites and other music. I have played quite a bit of the organ music, some of it this morning at the third service and more to come over the next two Sundays. He wrote in a liner note that "Bach is about ideas, not grand flourishes." I agree.

There are worse places to find common ground.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A day with Howells

Make that three days. And more to come.

Sunday, May 14
The choir is to sing the Howells anthem “Let God arise.” (Here is a performance by the choir of Chichester Cathedral)
A setting of verses from Psalm 68, it fits the Sunday after the Ascension in Year A, which is May 28. We have been rehearsing it for several weeks now (with a degree of grumbling from the choir over its difficulty, and the prospect of attempting it on Memorial Day weekend), but I have not properly worked out the accompaniment. Now is the time: three hours this evening, sufficient to do the fingering for about two-thirds of it.

I know the sacred choral music of Howells fairly well, but had not encountered this anthem. It was in the pile of choral octavos left by my predecessor when he retired in 2000. Over the years, I have nibbled the disordered collection of single copies, mostly gathered by him at workshops and AAM conventions, from five filing boxes to one stack of less than two feet. One reason I have not simply recycled it all is that I occasionally find something like this: an anthem by Howells that is new to me. Reading through it a few months ago, I thought of the Sunday at the end of May, penciled it in, and ordered the copies.

It replaces a composition of my own, a setting of the enormous Genevan Psalter tune for Psalm 68, in my opinion perhaps the most magnificent of that Psalter and a favorite of the early Calvinists with its warlike ferocity. It is the one thing I have written that got a bit of play; through a chain of circumstances, it was performed at the inauguration of the president of the New Brunswick Theological Seminary, a place where the Genevan Psalter remained important, at least on that day many years ago. But the Howells is far better than anything I could write.

Howells, writing during the early days of the Second World War, knew about warlike ferocity all too well. He captures the antidote in the middle section of the anthem:
He is a Father of the fatherless, and defendeth the cause of the widows, even God in his holy habitation. He is the God that maketh men to be of one mind in an house; and bringeth the prisoners out of captivity.

Tuesday, May 16
A day mostly filled with meetings. I find ninety minutes to finish the fingering, my only music-related work of the day beyond a bit of improvisation at the piano.

Wednesday, May 17
My reaction to a first exposure to the music of Herbert Howells was akin to his reaction to the music of Vaughan Williams. It was not until graduate school – his name was not mentioned at all in my undergraduate music history courses, nor theory and composition. Nor, for that matter, was Vaughan Williams; it was as if British music ceased to exist after Purcell and Handel. But at the Choir College, I was able to hear the Choir of Men, Boys, and Girls at Trinity Church, Princeton – and they sang “Like as the hart.” I could not sleep that night, not after such music.

“What is this?” I thought. “How have I missed out on this, all these years?” It was as if it were from another world, a place of beauty and longing and aching remembrance of ages past.

I have since played some of his organ music – quite a bit of it, actually – and have been able to teach and direct a few of his anthems and service settings. For a while, I was a member of the Herbert Howells Society, my only foray into a professional society focused on the music of one composer. I was part of a rather short list of American members, most of them leaders in the musical world – people like Gerre Hancock and Bruce Neswick, with whom I did not properly belong. But I shared with them a love for this man’s musical voice.

And now, a fine large anthem to learn and teach. I spend two hours at the organ, working out registrations; it is ready for tonight’s rehearsal.

But it is not the only Howells of the day, for today we begin rehearsal on the Collegium Regale Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis for the RSCM Course. I had worried much over this, in combination with Britten’s “Rejoice in the Lamb” – will the two pieces (along with the rest of the list, including some shorter pieces that will be challenging) be too much for the Course? And with the large group we are bringing from our parish comes large responsibility – will these choristers, my own choristers whom I love and have sought to train, will they be up to the challenge? I spend another hour or so studying the score over midday dinner, learning it in order to teach it.

At the afternoon rehearsal, we begin with the Gloria. They sing through it with ease. We work through the rest of the Magnificat, backwards to the front, finishing with a straight sing-through. It is glorious.

It brought back another memory of the choir at Trinity Church, Princeton. One sunny January afternoon, I observed a Girls’ Choir rehearsal as they sight-read part of the Mozart Requiem. I so wanted to someday work with a choir like that.

Well, I do.

Today’s work, these dozen or so choristers standing around the piano and singing Howells, was the equal to what I remembered from that January day.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Afterword
We did not rehearse "Let God arise" with the organ after all; a severe thunderstorm kept the youth choir and others downstairs for a long while, a half-hour into the time scheduled for the adult rehearsal, and kept most of the adult choir away. We contented ourselves with work at the piano.

That leaves one rehearsal; next Wednesday. I am no longer worried about the Collegium Regale; now I am worried about "Let God arise." We shall see what happens.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

C. H. Lloyd (1849-1919)

Here are the second and third movements of Lloyd’s Sonata in D minor, played at choral evensong this past Sunday, May 7. The finale has some problems (including mistakes I made initially, and again when the passage repeated!), but I have posted it because Lloyd appears to have a very limited presence on YouTube.

He does, however, have a good biography at Wikipedia, and he was a distinguished musician in his generation. He succeeded Samuel Sebastian Wesley as organist of Gloucester Cathedral, where he taught Herbert Brewer, his successor (who in turn taught Herbert Howells), with later positions at Christ Church, Oxford, the Royal College of Music, and organist of the Chapel Royal. He was a close friend of Hubert Parry. According to Wikipedia, he enjoyed figure skating, cycling, boating, and golf.

Lloyd died “very suddenly” [Wikipedia] on his seventieth birthday in 1919. May he rest in peace.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Resistance wins the day

I have heard it called the “Facebook effect.” All of my “friends” post photos of their vacations to exotic places; I stay at home and work. They speak glowingly of their children, all of them beautiful and strong and intelligent; I am childless. Each of them has hundreds of “friends,” perhaps thousands; I have what seems like but a handful, and I know that most of them are acquaintances, not friends in any true sense. [Disclaimer: I deleted my Facebook account after the November election. That action has improved my quality of life.]

What is happening is, of course, that these other people are posting about the good things and not the bad, nor the humdrum routine of work and responsibility.

This Music Box is no exception. From these pages, one could get the idea that I am diligent, always striving to play the organ and piano a little better, regular with the Daily Office and prayer, organized and efficient, always faithful to my Lord. Would that it were so!

I begin things and never complete them. I waste time, lots of it. Good habits that I seek to establish wilt when the times are challenging, leaving only the bad habits (which seem invulnerable). When confronted with milk chocolate, I am as helpless as a junkie. Or doughnuts. Or pastries. I dare not keep such things at home, or in my office.

And there are days like yesterday.

I began well; by the grace of God, on this day (and most days) my habits carried me through the morning routines at home, and right on through Matins at church. But then it is my custom to brew some tea, sit down at the computer, and eat a second breakfast.

It is the most dangerous part of my day, and most of all on Fridays, when I generally have no fixed commitments.

My Rule of Life says to check e-mail, both church and personal, and deal with it while I eat. Then I check the Internet; the Rule says to do so quickly and efficiently, without getting bogged down or extending this beyond the time it takes me to eat. There are several blogs that I follow, plus some weekly newsletters. The two that are the most important to me are these:

Faith, Folk, and Charity

I have mentioned Fr. Tim Chesterton several times in the Music Box; he is an Anglican priest and pastor of a parish in Edmonton, Alberta. He is more of an Evangelical than I am, and he is a guitar-playing folk singer. Both of these qualities are good for me, for I am a Rite One Anglo-Catholic and an organist/choirmaster who can easily become narrow in his musical tastes. His blog includes his weekly sermons, which I love; they are down-to-earth, practical, Biblical. And they frequently include music. It was Fr. Tim who introduced me to Stan Rogers, for example. And Kate Rusby, featured in his current post.

Jesse’s Café Américain

It is a marvelous blend of financial, spiritual, and political commentary, and even (sometimes) music—like Fr. Tim, Jesse posts YouTube clips, tending toward jazz. One Christmas, he even posted one of mine; “O holy Night” from our Christmas Day service, with Ting Davidson on the violin. Jesse bills his site as “an oasis of civility in an increasingly uncivil world,” and begins with a header that is most often of spiritual nature – the current one is a quote from John Henry Newman.

As it happens, the current post (April 28) includes a passage that pertains to my topic for today:
Remember that salvation has been bought for us by the greatest love that one can receive, and that we should therefore take no pride in it. Rather, we are a child not of our own works or words but of mercy, and we are therefore expected, no we are commanded, to extend that mercy to others. As you judge, so shall you be judged.

To take pride in our position and status and knowledge in the manner of the Pharisees, and especially to abuse our faith as a platform for hatred, violence, and other offenses against others, is to sin against the Spirit. And this is the one sin that will not be easily forgiven.

This then is a purpose of suffering, that we may be kept safe from such a temptation to think so falsely of ourselves, and imagine ourselves to be what we are not. For it is in this disordered pride that the first sin found its mark.
This, in the middle of a commentary on the first quarter GDP numbers and the day’s price action in the financial markets.

At the bottom of his page are more quotes, and what I think is his motto: “Need little. Want less. Love more.”

But I digress.

Yesterday, it was Jesse’s Café that led me astray (I hasten to add, through no fault of its proprietor). In a sidebar, he offers “Matières à Réflexion,” a list of blogposts, news articles, essays, videos that he considers worth a look. On this day, one of them was a link to a New Yorker article: Rod Dreher’s monastic vision

And that consumed the rest of the day.

I read the (long) article, which sparked my interest in Dreher’s book, “The Benedictine Option.” That led me to his blog, which is (I gather) famous and widely read; the New Yorker article says he gets around a million page views per month.

I disagree with many of his stances, but I agree with many others. He writes well, and prolifically; he posts daily, often at considerable length. As often happens when I discover a blog, I read and read some more, and then more. Much about the “Benedictine Option.” And politics. And the Orthodox church, and Catholicism. The New Yorker describes it well – “orthodox Christianity, religious freedom, the ‘L.G.B.T. agenda,’ the hypocrisy of privileged liberals, the nihilism of secular capitalism, the appeal of monasticism, the spiritual impoverishment of modernity, brisket—while sharing candid, emotional stories about his life.”

When I started, it was about 10:00. Before I knew it, it was nearly noon.

That was bad enough. Round One goes to Resistance.
[Resistance] takes many forms: procrastination, fear, self-medication, drugs/alcohol/junk food, cruelty to others and to self, wasting time with television/internet, criticism of others, the fear of criticism from others…

It is universal; everyone faces it, every day. Resistance especially abhors “the pursuit of any calling in writing, painting, music, film, dance, or any creative art… any diet or health regimen… any program of spiritual advancement… education of every kind… any act of political, moral, or ethical courage…” (p. 5 and 6, where Pressfield lists eleven such activities). Resistance hates these things, and will do anything to “shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.”
I said the Midday Office and went upstairs to my proper duties. Or I tried: I set the hymn boards and prepared my hymnals for the weekend’s services. But it was cold in the church, the fruit of a cold, rainy day. I knew that I must practice; Sunday loomed ahead, and Choral Evensong next weekend.

I was cold and tired, still not fully recovered from Holy Week and the hard week that followed. I knew that if I could just change my shoes and get on the bench, I might be all right.

But I could not bring myself to do it.

“It is dinnertime. I can practice after I eat.” I retired to my nice cozy office, brewed some more tea, set out my food. And returned to Mr. Dreher’s blog, which I found compelling.

One o’clock passed. Then two o’clock. “I must practice,” I thought. But it was so cold upstairs, and dark. The thought of going up there was more than I could handle. “Just a little more; I might as well finish this up.” Three o’clock.

Now, it was time to go home; no practicing for me today. The very thing for which I was made, and placed here to do for the glory of God and (hopefully) the benefit of His people, and I spend five hours on the Internet instead of attending to it.
Resistance’s goal is not to wound or disable. Resistance aims to kill. Its target is the epicenter of our being: our genius, our soul, the unique and priceless gift we were put on earth to give and that no one else has but us. Resistance means business. When we fight it, we are in a war to the death. (Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art” p. 15, quoted here.)
Not only did I fail in this, but I equally failed to do work that was available to me – and pressing – in my nice cozy office. Five hours.

There is nothing for it but repentance and amendment of life. Conversion of life, as the Benedictines would say:
Redeem thy misspent time that’s past
And live this day as if thy last.
Improve thy talent with due care;
For the great day thyself prepare.
(Thomas Ken)
It will be all right. Pressfield says elsewhere “One bad day is nothing. Ten bad days are nothing. You are in this for the long haul.” I am well-prepared for this Sunday—that is part of what opened the door for Resistance, for Necessity was not wielding its whip to press me forward at it had during the fortnight leading up to Easter. It is next Sunday’s Evensong that may suffer.

Today has been much better. For one thing, I dressed more warmly, and that made it easier to get on the bench in what was (again) a cold, dark church when I started. What I face is nothing; the old-time churches were not heated at all, and that did not deter the likes of Bach and Buxtehude and Franck and Bruckner from their work.

I am not going to purchase Mr. Dreher’s book; I read enough of his blog to see that I would probably enjoy it, but despite its title and premise, it offers little that would be new to me. I am pleased that a book about the Rule of Benedict and Christian life together is a best-seller (number seven on the NY Times list). But I already own at least two books that I think cover some of the same ground, about how to live as a Christian in a world that is coming unglued: Marva Dawn’s “Unfettered Hope,” which will never be a best-seller but may be a better book than Dreher’s. And from a world that was genuinely and totally unglued in a way I hope to never see: “Life together” (D. Bonhoeffer). Or I can go to the source: the Rule of Benedict itself.

I will not give up the Internet, though Dreher’s counsel of periodic “fasting” from the Net and related media is well-taken. On the whole, the things I have read on the Net have educated me and made me a better person—even a better musician—and it was through discussion forums (and this Music Box and its predecessor on LiveJournal) that I learned to write.

But it is dangerous. It is my greatest weakness, and requires more vigilance than I gave it yesterday.