Monday, September 28, 2009

Public Radio: Composer's Datebook

I suppose it's odd that I've written numerous entries on the joys of public radio, but I've never mentioned the program "Composer's Datebook." Thanks to a suggestion from Pastor, I'd like to rectify that situation today.

This past Saturday, the show featured a performance of "Genesis" by composer Charles Wuorinen. He is an American composer who fully embraced and enhanced the sound of "modern classical music." He is well-known for incorporating ideas of math and geometry into his music, and his work has been acclaimed with a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur "genius grant." Despite all of that, he remains largely unknown to the public because his music is far from easy to understand and enjoy. (To hear a free sample of "Genesis," click here. It's not a melodic, listener-friendly piece, but it may be the perfect sound for the chaotic process of creation!)

Wuorinen is particularly articulate on the distinction between art and entertainment, just as we might analogously attempt to draw a line between worship and entertainment. In a New York Times interview, he says, "I think there's a very simple distinction [between art and entertainment]. Entertainment is that which you receive without effort. Art is something where you must make some kind of effort, and you get more than you had before." In other words, great music and great art have a lingering influence on our lives and worldview.

However, despite his claim that it is a "simple" distinction, the line can admitedly become blurry. For instance, while I would argue that my vibrant memories of seeing Les Miserables on Broadway for the first time represent an artistic highpoint of American theatre, other people would surely rate it as entertainment. Individual perspective, experience, and even level of music education matter greatly in determining the difference between art and entertainment. Church musicians thus face a weekly struggle to find music that can reach people and yet transcend entertainment. It's a delicate balance, but the best hymns and service music will provoke thought and prayer as well as delight your ears.

No two people hear a piece of music in the same way. What brings an audience together, though, is the shared experience of hearing and making sense of a performance. On "Composer's Datebook," Wuorinen is quoted as saying, "Art is like nuclear fusion. You have to put something into it to get it started, but you get more out of it in the end than what you put in. Entertainment is its own reward and generally doesn't last." Replace "art" with "worship" and the same comparison is valid - worship demands participation and has everlasting reward.

1 comment:

  1. This week in Educational Psychology we discussed the Affective Domain of Benjamin Bloom. Bloom has 5 levels of engagement with any situation, but all of them call for an effort on the part of the receiver. Those who claim that they get nothing from (school, church, classical music, football, etc.) maybe have not made an effort. I love how this all fits together!