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Karen Allendoerfer

Playing in Church

November 17, 2008 at 12:22 PM

The observation is made often on this site and elsewhere that classical music got its start in church.  Even though, officially, I started playing the violin in a public school music program, I would say this is true for me personally also.  Given the long and complicated role that Christmas music has played in my musical and spiritual life over the years, it's remarkable that I'm playing Handel's Messiah for the first time just this year, for the Philharmonic Society's Holiday Concert in December.

I played solo viola in church again this past Sunday.  Since the retirement of our music director, the interim director has been nicely flexible in allowing church members to play if they want to, and her husband, who is also a professional pianist and music professor, has been playing the piano.  He played with my friend and me for the Bach Double a couple of weeks ago and this week I had the opportunity to play the Clarke Passacaglia and two short pieces, Shenandoah and Hook's Sonatina, with him for the Prelude and Offertory.  I also ended up playing along, in more of a fiddling style, with two rousing camp songs in honor of Ferry Beach, the UU camp and conference center that the offering was supporting.  One thing I like about playing in church is that the music is usually about something.  This is an aspect that I think is lost from many modern classical concerts.  The programs are often a mishmash of different eras, different nationalities, different purposes.  I find that it helps enormously when the program notes and/or a speaker address the audience's need for knowing what the concert is about.  In church, this is less necessary.  On the other hand, I doubt it was clear to many of the parishoners why they were putting money and checks in the plate while listening to Rebecca Clarke's Passacaglia on an Old English Tune for viola and piano.  The ideal may be liturgical coherence, but the reality is often something else.

Performance-wise, it wasn't my best and wasn't my worst.  I've come to expect that.  My husband was home with our son, who was sick, and no one recorded it for posterity or discussion with my teacher today.  What I think I noticed most is that playing in front of a group of people is becoming a little more "normalized" in my mind.  The emotional lows and highs are being smoothed out and the raw edge of anxiety is being slowly whittled away, making vibrato possible again.  I mentioned to the pianist that I'd been surprised at how off my intonation was in the performance of the Bach Double was a few weeks ago and he just smiled and nodded and said he knew how it was.  He'd seen that kind of thing before and now, so have I.  And I survived to play another day. 


From Tom Holzman
Posted via 167.176.6.8 on November 17, 2008 at 2:02 PM

I think it's terrific that you play in church like that.  What a great way to get some performance time in in front of a sympathetic audience and introduce folks to music they might otherwise not get to hear.   I particularly like the idea of smoothing out the performance anxiety issues a bit.  That's something I could use.  Keep up the good work!


From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted via 18.4.1.146 on November 17, 2008 at 9:45 PM

Thanks, Tom.  I remember playing in church when I was a kid, and I'm trying to arrange something for some of the other kids in the RE program, and my daughter.  They're at the level now where they can play some simple Christmas Carols. 

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