Commission Music

Commission Music
Bespoke Noise!!

Monday, 6 October 2003


I did a wordlcat search on the mystery play about Joan of Arc. worldcat is a nifty tool that lets you search university libraries all over the world. anyway, I found the text of the original play in old French and new French, a face to face translation from a language that I can't read to another language that I can't read. It's possible that I could make out old French like one could make out middle English. The play was written in 1429 and this was around the time that english and French were seperating into distinct languages. Before that, everyone spoke the Norman language. anyway, the book is in 43 libraries worldwide, but it turns out that one of them is one of the three library consortium that Wesleyan is part of. Trinity College actually has a very large number of books of 15th Century French Catholicism. And modern Catholic stuff too (I was doing a search of the music of Dom Remy, Joan of Arc's neighborhood cathedral). Their name is "Trinity." Frankly, I'm becoming suspicious of the secularism of that school.

Speaking of secularism or lack therof, the chapel rennovation here is now done enough to have concerts. the first concert in the Wesleyan chapel (the building with the most seats, in case one wants to give a concert) was a priemere of an organ piece written by Christian Wolff specifically for the new organ. the concert sold out weeks ahead of time and Alvin Lucier ordered his class to go, only to find out that the necessary 50 tickets for them to attend were not available. So he invited Wolff to speak to his class and then walk over to the chapel for a sneak preview.

Half of the music department crammed into the evil basement classroom to hear Wolff speak. He talked about a piano piece that he wrote in the 50's. for some reason, he prepared the piano in the classroom, maybe just to show how it was done, as he didn't play anythign once it was prepared. then he talked briefly about the organ piece and we walked over to the chapel.

I had never been in the chapel before, but Alvin had trold me that it was nondemonational and that the organist played student works. Lately, rumors had been flying about the mazing programmable organ. Each stop is separately addressable. (I now know what an organ stop is, but I'll skip it for now.) We got to the chapel and sat down. It's so non-demoninational that you can't even tell which northeastern protestant sect the chapel is dedicated to, but I'll hazard a guess and say Methodist. the windows are stained glass pictures of Jesus and the apostles (no stars of David, no blessed virgins, no buddhas...). there's no cross in front put the pews have hymninals ("cof Colleges and schools") and some prayer books (something that resembles a missal, but is protestant and thus has a different name) with pictures of jesus on the front. Clearly, "non denominational" is a word with different meanings to different people.

the Mills chapel, for example, could be called non-demoninational. The big stone altar is in the shape of a square cross, but it looks very pagan and it's right in the centre of the round building. There's a pipe organ. the glass is not stained. AFAIK, there are no pictures of Jesus. the pagan group used to have rituals there when it rained. (cuz who wants to stand around ina field in the rain?). anyway, I'm sensing that this is one of those east coast / west coast things.

So we sat down in the chapel and somebody went looking for the organist. the chapel inside wasn't finished and there were carpenters with saws, hammers, drills and hardhats busily assembling the alter region. the organist (who is so so so gay) talked about the organ for a few minutes and explained that not all the pipes had arrived. He then began to play Wolff's piece, sans some of the pipes, while the carpenters continued to work.

the piece had several quiet spots (or maybe just the pipes were missing) that got completely drowned out by the carpentry. It was 20 minutes long and hard to focus on in the din. Also, the audience's focus was difuse and distracted, further making it harder to concentrate on the peice. not that they were making noise (not that it would have made a difference is they did), but just that the energy wasn't right. It was a very odd organ concert. We clapped at the end.

It was reminding me of a John Cage story, published in Silence and recited in Indeterminancy. In it, Christian Wolff was playing a piano piece next to an open window. through the window came many loud sounds from passersby and automobiles and boat horns and airplanes that made it hard to hear the music and occasionally drowned it completely out. after he had finished playing, somebody asked him if he could play the peice again, but with the window closed. He replied that he would be happy to do so, but the outside sounds had no interfered with or obstructed the piano piece at all.

so we asked Wolff (the same Wolff as in JC's story) what he thought of the recital and he said that he thought it was great, didn't mind the carpentry at all. Maybe he should have a carpentry percussion part to go with it. Some of us (christi) giggled.

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