The Reluctant Organist

Resting in Our Music
The Reluctant Organist 4 (January 2009)
By Father Ed Erb

As a young musician, I had a compatriot on the other end of town.  We were “Anglo-c
Catholic;” “They” were “Evangelical.”  I was a former Lutheran, he was a dyed in the wool - heck, he wasn’t even dyed, he was the wool -- Episcopalian.  I was the Prince of Fast and he was the King of Stateliness.  And I’ve matured.  I think.
In Cesar Franck’s Piece Heroique there is at the very end a full measure of rest. The youngster in me just couldn’t fathom a whole written measure of silence. What is Cesar, my hero, thinking? So I would rush through the silence to get to the important stuff -- the next chords with the pounding bass. Then years later, I played the piece on an historic instrument in a reverberant room where the previous chord rolled and blossomed around the sacred space -- for seconds on end! All of a sudden the importance of those rests made sense. God’s beauty needs time to develop and grow, even in the progression of our harmonies.
We are coming into a period of rest -- after driving pages of musical activity. And while we take those moments -- days, weeks - of rest, we know that it is a fertile period when God’s grace will blossom within the silence. Good composers know the importance of rests. They write them into their music, whether like Vaughan Williams who thinks as an orchestral composer and carries the chord into the next beat, or Bach whose measurements end in vocal precision, those rests in the score are important. Don’t rush through them. Allow the music to blossom even if your room seems to be dead acoustically. That may be all the more reason to let the silence be just that. Silence. For growth, for meditation, for the music to work.
[One clear practical attachment for the organist is to allow space between the stanzas of hymns. We see four beats at the last measure. But it really takes a choir and congregation extra time between stanzas to let the music and poetry breathe. The standard suggestion is to allow a full extra measure, holding the last chord a bit, then giving a clear silence for breath -- all in the regular rhythm of the metre.]

The Rev. Edward K. Erb,, the Rev. Hillary Raining,, and Canon Mark Laubach are members of the committee working on the Leadership Program for Musicians for the Diocese of Bethlehem.

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