One of the common aphorisms that is thrown around by musicians is that “the music world is small”, meaning that the circumstances of our profession almost eliminate degrees of separation. Not only do we meet people who are colleagues of our colleagues but it is also certain that we will reconnect with each other later in life.
The music world is small enough to connect me with the only person that I have ever met from my hometown of Manistee “in the outside world.” Joe Fortin, music director at Emmanuel Episcopal Church of Petoskey, grew up in Manistee, and, like me, delivered the Manistee News Advocate on a paper route. I guess it built “character” appropriate for the musician’s life.
Mr. Fortin programed two pieces along with the other service music. First was a transcription of Richard Wagner’s Song of the Evening Star from his opera Tannhauser. For communion, we performed Ernest Bloch’s Prayer, from The Jewish Life (1924).
On another note, I’ve been spending some time at different churches and I’ve noticed a common theme. For the last forty years, pastoral leadership has been acutely aware of the exodus of people from the church. Today, about 20% of Americans no longer claim any religious affiliation, a number that has grown from 5% in first half of the 20th century.
I don’t see this exodus as an isolated phenomenon. So too has the concert hall seen audience attendance decline. With or without the benefits of music education and exposure, people of all ages are electing not to attend live performances of classical music.
I believe that the rise in “non-affiliates” and the decline of concert-goers is the symptom of a larger issue of our culture. The sensibility for “community”, that is, the meaningful relationships we establish with groups of people, is becoming watered down. As both churches and concert halls face decreased involvement and increased financial instability, the pockets of emptiness that grow in individuals’ lives will grow. I don’t believe that “non-affiliates” are simply people with an aversion to organized religion, but I do see them as people who will seek real connectivity in our technology age (even now, as I sit on my coach typing on my laptop, I wonder, who will really read this?). Non-affiliates, not just in a religious sense, will seek meaningful experiences. As a performer, working with and performing for other people creates a temporary community that makes my world “smaller” and I hope, one that will join us.
Wagner: Song of the Evening Star http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F7_jU9UnZ60
Bloch: Prayer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTso0wYH4f4