When I travel by myself, I listen to a lot of music. I sometimes listen just for entertainment, just to pass the time, but generally, I listen to be moved, inspired, to have my world challenged and a new way of being emerged; of course, that doesn’t always happen. I like music that provokes and celebrates, that protests and challenges, across different genres.
Some of you will have heard of the late conductor Leonard Bernstein. He was famous because he was a great conductor, but even more so because he conducted Beethoven’s 9th Symphony as the Berlin wall came down 30 years ago; it was a celebration of freedom, reconciliation and a new beginning.
Bernstein was also a composer. He wrote a piece called Chichester Psalms. I bought it a while ago. It’s quite sublime. I thank Debra Dean Murphy for introducing me to it; she wrote in The Christian Century magazine back in 2012, an article called In Life, in Death, in Life Beyond Death. I read the article because of the line from the United Church creed and found Bernstein’s work described. This is what she said about the 2nd movement of Chichester Psalms:
A boy soprano (or a countertenor), in the “role” of the shepherd boy, David, sings in Hebrew the opening verses of Psalm 23. He is accompanied–sparingly, fittingly–by the harp. The first several measures are tender but not tentative; filled with sentiment, but without sentimentality (this per Bernstein’s instructions). When the women’s voices take over the text at גַּם כִּי־אֵלֵךְ בְּגֵיא צַלְמָוֶת . . . (Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…) there’s an ethereal echo-canon effect. This part of the movement, when executed well, is something »»