December 11, 2009 at 10:50 PM
December's celebrations bring much music into the open -- don't all celebrations?
The question I pose to you today is: Are you in the mood for sacred or secular music? Would you rather go sing or play the Messiah, or the Nutcracker? "Silent Night" or "Jingle Bell Rock"? In general, would you rather play a Mozart Requiem, or a Mahler Symphony?
Of course, you are allowed to like both. We all do! But vote for what first comes to mind for you on this December day, and then share your thoughts about sacred vs. secular music.
Three Christmases ago I went to hear an Advent service in a local Catholic church, solely on the basis that they would be singing some Bach. Before going any further I should say that I had such a Protestant upbring that the Catholic church is a complete unknown to me. For someone accustomed to plainness and austerity the whole backdrop was sensory overload for me: an ancient church with icons shimmering in the candle-light, dischordant bells and frankincense. In my mind I was in Novgorod, not in the United Kingdom. It was one of the best musical performances I've ever heard and yet sadly there were more people in the choir than in the congregation. I'll never forget it.
I would rather play nutcracker, but I have a cantata rehearsal in 40 minutes and a performance of Messiah tomorrow...oh well :) I would definitely take the Mozart Requiem over a Mahler symphony though, the Requiem is just so intense; it might be morbid, but I love it.
Messiah vs. Nutcracker is my favorite car-pool time-killer conversation fodder this time of year. I've always favored Nutcracker, because there can be a big range of quality for Messiah singers. During Nutcracker, you only hear the feet. (smile)
I sort out secular vs. sacred questions by saying "yes" to whatever contractor calls first. (another smile)
Sander Marcus, where are you? We need another one of your excellent explanations of the scientific method and statistical analysis of data. I was quite amused to see the proportions of each of the two groups reported to 14 significant figures! I know it's the fault of Twiig, which handles the numbers, and not the fault of our own Laurie Niles. (Please don't take offense, Laurie.) I had to chuckle when I read this. I remember my days as a grad student reviewing the homework assignments and tests of students in in Chem 101 and writing boldly, in bright red, "Sig Figs."
Back to the real issues of Laurie's question. I don't make a distinction between secular and sacred music very strongly. To me, it's all music, and what is important is how much I like the music itself and the quality of the performance. Of course, there is a vast difference between "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" and Mozart's Requiem. I strongly prefer Mozart, but for a holiday celebration with second graders, "Rudolph..." is a better choice.
The time of day, the mood we are in at the moment dictates the choice--The thought of scraping away on the violin with Jingle-bell Rock or Rudolph does not sound appealing. However, what ever song is firmly entrenched in my head is the most enjoyable to play because for me it translates down satisfactorily to my fingers. It is Sunday morning and for me, I have a lot of sacred music stamped forever in my brain.
Enjoy it all but the sacred definitely has added meaning for me, making it much more fully rewarding.
As a music teacher, I often get asked my favorite composer, favorite piece of music, and favorite Christmas song. I always answer with Beethoven, Ancient Aires and Dances #3 (Respighi), and two for the last question: O Holy Night (with choir) for sacred and LeRoy Anderson's Sleigh Ride (instrumental). I performed both in high school and college choirs and orchestras and will always hold a place dear in my heart.
I'm not Christian, but sacred. Victoria's "O Magnum Mysterium" is very moving. I remember when I was young my father made me listen to chant which might skew my opinion -_- I also like the All-Night Vigil by Rachmaninov (though it's not really Christmas specific)
Near Easter we get to hear Stabat Mater and Miserere Mei. I love the settings by Palestrina and Allegri
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