Thursday, September 08, 2005
Our choir director lives for moments like this: from within the tenor section [in a very proud, lightbulb-going-off sort of voice] someone realizes aloud, "Oh, right! I see why we were ahead. We need to hold that note for six counts, not four." Uh-oh. Mr. Director hops up on the rounded, ornately-carved edge of the pew and perches there precariously as he begins his litany. "How many times have I talked about this? We never 'hold' notes. Notes are sustained, never held. You have to let them go, let them travel; sound is always moving, always on the go somewhere. If you hold onto a note, you prevent it from moving forward. Sustain, sustain! Give some direction to that note even as it is sustained on one pitch." The director often speaks quite passionately on the difference between holding and sustaining pitches, and tonight I envisioned another take on the issue. These notes we sing are like a little community of people, and you can't hold a person too tight for fear of extinguishing their creative impulses--their musical "movement" and direction, if you will. Yes, let them go, let them wander and explore. The best you can do is offer guidance, sustain them somehow, and give shape to their meanderings. Dear Palestrina. If I had to live in a piece of music...well, it couldn't get any better than that.