Wednesday, July 12, 2017

An Organ Recital In Notre de Dame de Paris

One-Man Band and an Audience

As I sat in an uncomfortable chair in the nave of Notre Dame de Paris, I was alone in my own thoughts and one of many in an audience that filled the cathedral. I am no stranger to organ recitals at Notre Dame.

The seating was not designed for comfort, only for efficiently accommodating a large number of people in the space. Had the chairs been otherwise, more members might have drifted off to sleep than actually did. I wondered before the recital commenced what I might write about this experience. Would I review the performance, talk about the ambience?

Should I describe the aromatic impact of walking into this sacred space and being refocused upon entrance by the omnipresent cloud of incense?  Then, once seated how the communal smell of hundreds of humans neutralized the holy scent?

Did I feel compelled to describe how the direction the audience was facing seemed backward for a concert? We faced the altar, not the organ. Our backs were turned on the unseen performer, who even if the seating changed direction would remain invisible. Or, did I need to note that an organ, especially one that is designed to fill this particular space with glorious sound is essentially a one-man band? It is a gigantic air fueled set of tin whistles played by ten fingers and two feet. It is an orchestra of one that dominates the aural interior of the cathedral.

Instead, I want to talk about the audience, the somewhat captive group of people who self-selected to attend. Hundreds of people paid to sit in uncomfortable chairs to hear an organist perform four pieces by four composers: Bach, Liszt, Roger-Ducasse, and Durufle.  A percentage knew not only the composers but had played these pieces. More were on the other end of the spectrum. There were families who brought their children, couples on a date, individuals, a music enthusiast sharing with a friend, others who saw a poster and had money in their pocket. People choose to attend this concert for their own reasons.  Some knew what they would experience, some had vague expectations, others did not.

After the Bach finished a few people got up and left. They had heard enough or maybe the seats had gotten to them. Another handful departed during the Liszt. As the concert progressed, more drifted away.  I listened to the final two pieces and afterward thought of how local television news reporting manipulates their viewers into staying to the end by teasing with promises of some breaking news payoff or film coverage of cute baby pandas. Films came to mind that give those who stick around for the credits, out takes or bloopers deleted from the movie. Then, I thought how this concert promises only sounds played by one invisible musician, which if you pay for your seat you may stay through the entirety of the performance or leave as you wish or nap, or cuddle with the person with whom you came.

Then I thought how experiencing a gallery of artworks, paintings can be considered in a similar way.  There are those who look at a painting in the way an organist in the audience listens to the Bach. There are the boyfriends brought along who would prefer to be sharing affection than looking at a painting or listening to an organ recital, yet are there none the less. There are the families, the curious and the incurious. There are those passing by wondering what this is all about. There are those who ask for nothing, seek nothing, and get nothing from the experience.

And finally, there are those, some from all of the above and then some more, who consciously or unconsciously look or listen and allow themselves to step outside of the day-to-day world for then entire duration it takes the organist to play these four pieces, or just a chunk, a nanosecond.

There are those who listen to music played start to finish and those who are satisfied with what they hear on the elevator. There are those who glance, in passing, at a painting and those who stop in their tracks to be swept away by a tidal wave of color and line.

The unseen organist and the painter or poet work with our idioms to take those willing to follow an escape for the soul.

Paris 2017 #81

Sandy Kinnee

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