Understanding Beauty

March began with two Laudate concerts called Mass Enlightenment. We performed Missa Assumpta Es de Maria by Palestrina, a compiled mass consisting of movements from a few different masses and Mass for Double Choir by Frank Martin. The first performance was on March 2nd at St. Andrew’s United, the second was on March 8th at Holy Rosary Cathedral. This is why my March blog post is late this month. Thank you so much to those of you who attended.

Those of you who are choral aficionados and/or singers will know that the above program is very challenging. The performances were not error free by any means but there is no such thing as a perfect performance. I talked about the performances afterwards with my fellow singers and we all talked about what mistakes were made, where we could improve, etc.; however, there is such incredible beauty in these works, especially when performed in venues with a four second reverb.

At the end of the Martin at the Holy Rosary performance, I had a very rare experience. My knees were shaky and I had to dig my nails into my palms to keep from weeping. I couldn’t very well cry on stage in from of over a hundred people; I had to be professional after all. After thinking about that experience for a few days, I realized that for one moment, I understood beauty. I cannot explain it any other way and that is as it should be. If you’ve never had this experience, I cannot explain it in words and if you’ve had it, then explanation is not necessary. One could call it a spiritual experience or enjoying the moment; I prefer to leave the explanations and analysis to the scientists, psychologists, philosophers and theologians.

It is interesting how different people can have completely different experiences of the same event. Some of my fellow singers were downcast about individual mistakes, others loved the whole event and many people in the audience at both performances loved the music. I’m not certain but I think that many papers have been written about the difference of individuals’ experience of the same event.

I do know that being a musician has given me the opportunities to have these rare experiences. This is a big part of why I do music and why music matters. Making art opens you up to having these experiences. To say that art, music, literature and culture do not matter or produce anything of value is false. We need art in all of its forms in order to understand beauty.

Finally, I’d like to share a quote by my favourite poet, T.S. Eliot. It’s from Murder in the Cathedral.

“This is one moment,
But know that another
Shall pierce you with a sudden painful joy.”

Appreciate the beauty of those words.