My last thought about the concert is really a series of question for my readers regarding repertoire. The St. Olaf choir sang Charles Forsberg's setting of "Prayer of St. Francis." Of all the music they sang, it was the piece that had the least impact on me, personally. In thinking about it, I wonder if it was because I know the text so well and have heard it sung (and recited) so many times. Has repetition simply dulled its effect?
The question brings to mind a segment I once heard on "This American Life." Ira Glass told the story of a school teacher who took his students to Washington D.C. and played Martin Luther King, Jr's "I Have a Dream" speech for them on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Of course, we'd expect anyone to be awed by the history, the emotion, and the power of that place and those words. Instead, many of the students shrugged and said they had heard it plenty of times before and it still hadn't seemed to change the world. Is that just general cynicism or the inevitable effect of repetition?
Obviously it would be difficult to argue with the message of the text of the Prayer of St. Francis - "Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace." On the other hand, a perfectly obvious result is often considered boring or elementary in other disciplines. A mathematical tautology doesn't need further study, after all.
So my experience has brought three questions to my mind:
1. Is the Prayer of St. Francis in particular still a meaningful text?
2. If not, has it been dulled by repetition, its "obviousness," or something else?
3. In any case, what are the implications for weekly repetition of the liturgy or hymns? Does such repetition ultimately reinforce or undermine the message?