Monday, January 17, 2011

Passion in performance

Stumbling across this picture today, I was reminded about an article I read a while ago about a computer program that was created to play piano music. More than just play it note for note though, it was designed to play like a pianist. It was programmed to 'feel' the piece, judge the tempo, read the notes and attempt to read between the lines of the music. More than that, it was also programmed to compose its own musical scores.

They brought in a music critic to listen to a piece of music the software had composed and played, without telling him it was composed and played by a computer. The critic made a very poignant comment afterwards. He noted that the piece was complex, had wide variations in tempo (speed), harmonies and running themes, but that the piece had been played by someone who must have read it literally note for note. He said that the performance he'd just heard had been played immaculately, not a note out of place, every dynamic played to the letter, but the piece itself had no feeling, no soul.

This made me reflect on what a critic might see looking in at the Christian life. Do they see a dryly lived, legalistic life filled with rules, regulations and heartless traditions (by which I mean, traditions followed with no heart in them)? Or do they see a life that's made simple by the beauty of grace? So simple in fact, that which our eye not having to be 'on the ball' the whole time with following rules, that we show real joy in serving God - joy that is evident in the smallest of things like fixing a cup of coffee or doing the dishes, to giving up time and what we have for others. And with this joy in our service, our satisfaction in grace through Christ, the performance the critic hears is not one of dry precise notes, but one of colourful expression, sweeping the critic along on the journey of the piece, full of accidentals (incorrect notes) but sounding all the more beautiful because of them, the musician knowing that he has the freedom to make them and to enjoy the piece to its fullest.

When you watch a musician who's played for many years, who's come to know a piece of music by heart, you cannot help but get swept along in the performance. You can see how they feel the music, raise a hand here and there, knowing the lulls in the music. It can take your breath away. As Christians, as we walk closer with God each day, we grow to know his character, and as we know the reality of Jesus' death on the cross and his grace more fully, our lives take on more colour and vibrance. The accidentals of our lives now spur us onward into the piece, where once we would have stopped and maybe tried to backtracked in order to correct them and have the 'perfect' performance in our repertoire.

The glorious truth is this, that the piece we are expected to play has been performed perfectly by Christ. We now have the immense privilege of being able to have that as the crowning glory of our repertoire, and to play the piece we are playing now to the glory of the composer. No longer are we constrained by the rules of the piece, we can play it with joy and a real sense of freedom.

The 3rd movement of Beethoven's 'Moonlight' Sonata is one of my favourite pieces of music. Wilhelm Kempff (20th Century pianist/composer) plays it in this video. Enjoy :)


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