With the Winter Olympics coming up next week, I've been making bizarre comparisons between the world of sports and the world of the arts. Last week it was all about bigger, faster, stronger...well, mostly faster and louder. This week it's time to focus on those fascinating sports you used to never see broadcast anyplace except once every four years at the Olympics, though now you can tune and catch them all in perfect ubiquity, 24 hours a day, if you've got ESPN 7.
In the winter Olympics, our fascinated attention is drawn to exotic outliers like Curling and the Biathlon. The way the biathlon works is that two great sports that have nothing at all to do with each other are mashed together, such as skiing and shooting. First you have to run on skis really hard and fast, then you have to stop and hit five targets. It's something that was first invented by college students very early one morning surrounded by empty pizza boxes and formerly alcoholic beverages.
A similar sport with a musical twist was invented by yours truly one spring when training for a 5k. Having made the pleasant discovery that the distance from my home to the church where I work and back was exactly the same distance as a 5k, I devised a sport where I ran to the church, practiced for a couple of hours, and ran back. In those days that was about all I could handle. But I think it would be a great way for organists to compete in the Olympics.
The way I envision such a sport working is that the competitors will run a mile or so to their respective instruments, and discover, upon getting there, that a particular Bach chorale prelude has been placed on the music rack. These Chorale Preludes will have various difficulty ratings, of course, and a hefty computer formula will have to be invented to reward points based on technical perfection at a given difficulty rating. There will be no points for musicality, historical awareness, or style, naturally, though points will be deducted for missing notes and going over the allotted amount of time, which will reward persons who can play faster and roboticly but have no imagination. Otherwise we would have to bring in judges and there would be scandals, which would draw more attention to the sport than we want if we want it to comfortably remain on ESPN 7.
Having to play one of the more contrapuntally complex and faster chorales would be a challenge if all the blood were flowing to your legs which naturally rewards sheer consistency and practice. And of course having technical perfection being so important not only mirrors contemporary societal values in art, it would give the announcers a chance to grimace and shout brilliant things like "oh no! He missed the E-flat! That's an automatic tenth of a point deduction."
The music finished, the competitors would get up and run to the next station, where a piano would be waiting for them and they would launch into a Beethoven sonata. Sound like something you'd watch? You and at least four other people in the country? I have to know before I pitch it to the IOC.