It’s a familiar situation in the musical world. ‘Watch! Watch! Watch me!’ The agitated conductor shouts at the choir and orchestra, pointing to his baton: ‘You have to watch my beat!’
Recently I had a rare privilege: being in the choir for the première performance of Sanctus, a specially commissioned work that was part of the 200th anniversary celebrations of the foundation of the first St David’s Cathedral in Hobart. The work is about 25 minutes long and the text is the angelic ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts’, with reference to the graciousness of the Lord and the eternal blessing upon those who dwell in his house.
The work combines a 50-voice choir of adults and children, cathedral pipe organ, specialised percussion, plus the cathedral bells. It was composed in Eb to match the tuning of the bells. The music is stunning, meditative and calm, as well as resounding with praise. Quite spine-tingling in places, particularly when the bells join in.
A logistical nightmare!
The necessary synchronisation was nothing short of astonishing, made possible by hightech smartphones and tablets, with cables and foldbacks between the remote bell-tower and the musicians, choir and soloists inside the cathedral. The organ had its usual rear-vision mirror plus a tablet focused on the conductor. Added to this was the time-delay of a second or so between the organ and the choir. A logistical nightmare in the making!
The composer himself was conducting and the 3-hour rehearsals were at times a little fraught. And it all proved the absolute necessity to ‘Watch! Watch me! Watch me!’
Take your eyes of the conductor just for a moment and everything can fall apart.
During the long rehearsals there were times when the choir was out of step, or the organ was several bars behind – or ahead. Soloists came in too early, or too late. Or not at all.
Diligently counting bars was vital, but more vital was keeping your eye on the conductor and his baton. Sometimes two eyes were barely enough – to watch the conductor’s baton and the score and still be aware of the people around you. Exhausting, adrenaline-pumping stuff!
This demand to ‘watch’ was highlighted again this week in our small group.
As we have moved through the weeks of Lent and prepare to remember Easter and the events leading up to this most holy part of our Christian year we have been looking at a DVD about the life of Jesus, filmed on location in the Holy Lands. The last session was filmed in an olive grove, or the Garden of Gethsemane as we now call it.
As we saw starlight flickering through the dark canopy of ancient olive trees, we could visualise the scene: late at night, Jesus and his disciples in the final days of Jesus’ earthly life and all of them confused, uncertain of a big picture and longing for sleep.
Jesus withdrew to pray alone, instructing his disciples to ‘watch and pray’, to keep guard. He knew what was to come. But the disciples slept, failed to keep watch. They were unaware of a bigger picture, a ‘spiritual composition’; oblivious to the ‘great composer and conductor’.
Matthew 26: 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, ... keep watch with me.’
40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?’ he asked Peter.
They couldn’t even last for one hour! (And we had to ‘watch’ for four long rehearsals and two performances in one week!)
It’s so easy, so human to be distracted, to lose focus, to yield to tiredness and hunger, despite the best of intentions. We all do it. Whether it be a ball game, a concert performance or life itself.
As Jesus said, 41 ‘Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’
Watch! The great conductor and composer, the Lord of life.
Sheelagh Wegman, BA, IPEd Accredited Editor is production editor for the Tasmanian Anglican bi-monthly magazine and does a broad range of editing for self-publishing authors. She belongs to St David’s Cathedral in Hobart and lives on the foothills of Mt Wellington.
Sheelagh Wegman’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/sheelagh-wegman.html