Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Obstacle Course

Many times the simple things in life turn out to be extraordinarily time consuming, and complicated.

On Friday I posted a handful of Chorales from J. S. Bach's enormous St. Matthew Passion. Our children's choir was involved in the performance which featured a professional orchestra, another pickup orchestra, a rather large choir that was comprised of I think two groups from the university, several soloists--at any rate, a cast of hundreds, led by a retiring professor from the university.

Since I was rather familiar with the Chorale, or hymn portions of the Passion, having rehearsed them with the children for the last month, I thought it would be a nice idea to record them on piano. There is nothing historically correct about this, but I thought it would make a nice, simple observance of Good Friday, and be a serene contrast to the large, difficult (and loud) things I had been playing recently. The piano sound would be beautiful, and the masterful harmonizations of Bach of these majestic Chorales would serve as a pleasant five minutes of music for that sober observance. And they would be easy to play.

Turns out it took three times longer than I thought it would. Thursday morning I brought the recorded materials home and discovered that one of the microphones hadn't recorded a thing, rendering my stereo recording mono, which is far less pleasant sounding through headphones. Friday morning, thinking perhaps a cable hadn't been connected properly, I tried again, and discovered the same buzz in the line but no music. Oh dear.

Since I had brought my laptop with me I discovered all this before I went home and could try again while still on the premises. I went to borrow a microphone from our church administration director in the equipment room next to our Worship and Life Center, which is where we hold our contemporary service; at which point I was asked by our associate pastor if I could rehearse a piece for Easter Sunday (I obliged), and, fortified with a bit of rock and roll, went back to the passion music (which made for a spiritually pleasing contrast. By the way, part of my job involves switching styles and traditions at the drop of the hat; one moment I'm in the Worship and Life center wailing away on some praise song with the band; a minute later I've run across the hall to rejoin the traditional service and am playing a Bach Fugue on the organ for the offertory--so I'm used to it).

I manage to go through all of this serenely, despite it being close to noon on Friday and I so far haven't recorded a thing and am planning to post them the same day. But I had developed a backup plan anyhow (while thinking this just wasn't going to happen); a Bach Chorale-Prelude I recorded last June and forgot about (!), and for some reason, even though it was Easter weekend and I am already exhausted  somehow it feels like there would be enough time for everything. Barely, but, if I keep at things, I thought, they will all manage to get done.

And they do. Somehow, I stay in character and for the third time in two days play these placid harmonizations, these miniature masterworks with their almost taize-like meditative quality as rendered on the piano at almost a pianissimo, download them from the recorder into my laptop, take them home (after seeing that the problem has been fixed, which might mean it's my microphone that is the problem), do all the mixing, choosing of takes, processing, importing, uploading, blog writing, and linking required, and get the post published late in the evening but still technically on the date advertised. (That's happened a lot lately. I publish late in the day, but so far it's been seven months since I started this blog and I haven't missed a self-imposed deadline yet, even when I was sick.)

The point is this: these pieces should have taken me fifteen minutes to record, and another hour to process and post. They should have been ready by Thursday morning with a day to spare. Instead it took me until Friday evening. I had to record each of the Chorales about eight or nine times (I like to do a couple of takes each time) and I still don't know if my microphone is mysteriously dead or not because I haven't had time yet to check. But somehow, the job got done. I had a plan B, which is important, and something I've needed to resort to a few times this year whether blogs aren't ready or music isn't ready for a performance. But sometimes, if you are prepared enough in advance, plan A manages to come together at the last minute if you keep at it doggedly and refuse to give up, using all the available time and every possible strategy you can think of. Or not. Scrambling, like all talents, is a skill that improves with use, and inventiveness can be its own source of satisfaction. Besides, you never know when you are going to need it. Just because something seems like it will be a piece of cake doesn't mean it won't turn into an adventure.

Often the victory doesn't go to the strong. It goes to the persistent.

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