Friday, November 23, 2012

Thoughts Concerning Music

This post was originally published on the blog The Catholic Socratic Forum. It was re-posted here with permission from its author, John. I hope you enjoy!

Live Music vs. Recordings: My Thoughts

Just this past Sunday, I played in a strings ensemble concert. We’re a mixed group; some of us are professionals while some are not. But the magic that all of us created there—for just the space of an hour—was indescribable. We really cast a spell there.

And this magic didn't just happen. We practiced our music until it became magic. We worked it until it became perfect so that we could create something sublime.

But recordings can be played over and over again at the push of a button. Recordings are certainly very convenient and wonderful, and without them we would never be able to listen to old recitals or violin concertos or any other music that we would otherwise be unable to experience.

The things that I am going to say are really just my own thoughts. I am not saying that recordings are bad, but I think that live performances are preferable to recordings. When you go to a concert, you not only get to hear the music as it’s being produced, you see the musicians as they are playing, and form a sort of connection to them. If you are a musician, you are producing the music yourself, which is an even more wonderful thing.

On the other hand, recordings are static. The process has already taken place, and the music is now packaged frozen, just waiting to be microwaved. While this is very convenient, it’s certainly not as good as having it fresh from the garden.  

I have another objection to recordings. They can be an occasion for musicians with little or no playing talent to impress the world, and I’m sure they have. All that anyone has to do to make a spotless recording is to put lots of little bits of music together with the aid of a computer—plus the necessary equipment. (A few people don’t even try to sing anymore. All they have to do is talk into a computer and bend their voice pitch to particular frequencies.) Still, a great many recordings are produced by very talented musicians, and my objection is only that they can be done by people with little or no musical talent; I’m sure they have been. (If I'm wrong about anything in this paragraph, please correct me.)

This entire article is just an attempt to voice my somewhat embryonic thoughts on this subject (thoughts that might not all be right). I must admit that I don’t know much about the ways that live music can be better than recorded music. I also admit that I listen to a great quantity of recorded music all the time; I love it. In fact, I listen to more recordings than live music. Either one is good in its own way, but perhaps our culture makes music too easy, like frozen food.

If you have thoughts on this, please tell me. This is going to be a very interesting topic for discussion.

Photo by Derek Gleeson, via Wikipedia.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

I'm Thankful

I am thankful for my job. A job that makes just enough for me and my family to squeak by and yet employment that is both honorable and that has a future.

I am thankful for my home. It is smaller than 700 square feet, with only two bedrooms for five people. It has brown shag carpeting from the eighties on the floors, a finicky septic tank, no yard, and obnoxious rent. Yet it is still a home.

I am thankful for my family. For my wife, especially, who always sees the potential in me that I never do, for my kids, who love me with abandon. For my parents and siblings, who give my life texture and tension,  insight and humor.

I am thankful for my country. A country with mediocre leadership and a shaky moral compass, skewed logic and overwrought emotions, but a country nonetheless.

I am thankful for a world that continues to spin, grow food, get warmer and colder, make snow, erupt, spew, destroy and renew. Weather that continues to startle and amaze, creatures and geology that continue to manifest themselves.

I am thankful for my faith. A faith that is only made stronger and more vocal in times of trial and crisis such as these. Catholicism has never been about the easy path, but it is about the good one.

And I am thankful for my God, the Maker and Sustainer of my job, home, family, country, world, and faith. Without Him I would be nothing. Literally.

Happy Thanksgiving, to all of my readers and everyone else.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Minor Epiphany

Inspirational. Timeless. The One you've been waiting for. These words/phrases in your experience probably best describe a Disney direct-to-video movie trailer. I recently saw one particularly egregious example, involving Tinkerbell and a land full of other similar fairies that nearly made my Dr. Pepper go out my nose in amusement when the narrator made the announcement: "The Wait Is Over." I was not aware I had been waiting. Need creation taken to the extreme, I suppose. Then again, how else is Disney supposed to sell such saccharine vacuity if not by creating a need?

It is intriguing, and sad, that such hyperbole is applied today for the basest of reasons, i.e., to sell product that generally does not live up to the hype that is heaped upon it. Hyperbole loses all of its impact when used liberally, as any regular viewer of Disney trailers is painfully aware. Saving your adulation for the right moment and the right thing will make others perk up and listen when yo have something real to rave about.

Which is why I hope I have saved my adulation for the right moment here, because I found something tonight that I consider truly remarkable. It is one of the most beautiful pieces of essaymanship that I have read in a great while. It is, dare I say, Inspirational and Timeless. And maybe the one you've been waiting for, if you are discouraged by evil and boneheadedness.

The article is written by a woman named Susannah Black, and it concerns the joy (and the necessity, by odd extension) of writing. Writing in order to philosophize, writing in order to cheer, writing in order to convince. Her style is simple, but powerful. In many ways it was an eye opener for me, because everything she writes about in this piece is concerned with why I started this blog in the first place. She meaningfully and convincingly ties thought to action, the written word to impetus, the power of speech to the ability to move. 
She ties God and a sinful world together, accurately describes their proper relationship to each other, and proceeds to infuse that relationship with a kind of whimsical joy. Her writing treads lightly, because she realizes that writing that is true and good is not of this world.

I hope I am not over-hyping her work, but it quite honestly almost brought me to tears in that it hit so close to home for me. Take a read for yourself and tell me what you think.

Photo by Antonio Litterio, via Wikipedia.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

It's Over, But Not Really

In chapter eight of the first book of Samuel, the people of Israel cry out to the prophet Samuel to appoint them a king to rule over them, instead of the direct rule of God through His prophet. In an odd twist, God does not refuse the request of the Israelites; rather, He has Samuel appoint Saul as the first king of Israel. Within three generations the kingship of Israel degenerates into a crushing burden on the backs of the Jews, an oppressive regime of over-taxation, corruption, and debauchery unwilling to answer to God's call for change. God had given the people what they wanted: the glamour and pomp of a secular king, the rule of a human being, a "messiah" of sorts to wave his hand and right the wrongs of the people. It did not take long for the humanity of Israel's kings to show its ugly side. In the act of giving the people what they desired, God let them unwittingly enact His own vengeance on them..

This scenario seems all too familiar.

In 2008, America craved a change in its leadership, in its policies, and in its general direction. John McCain, stodgy and inarticulate, was seen as merely the continuation of eight long years of George Bush's perceived presidential ineptitude. America fell hard for Barack Obama, a dynamic and inspiring figure whose freshness and youthful attitude led to McCain's obliteration at the polls. Democratic rule dominated Washington and the Republican party was left for dead. Things would get done, greedy people would be punished, jobs would be created, the environment would be saved from human ravages. It was a new golden age.

Close to four years passed. Obama's administration bypassed, ignored, or downright contradicted established American law on numerous occasions. Guns went to Mexican drug lords on Obama's watch. Diplomats and SEALS died while Washington watched from afar. The economy continued to sputter and struggle. Money applied to green energy companies disappeared in multiple bankruptcies. A corrupt attorney general chose to prosecute peaceful groups opposed to his agenda, whilst leaving other known criminals to live free. The list goes on and on.

And yet, at the end of the day as we all know by now, Barack Obama was not only reelected as president, he was reelected with a rock-solid margin of victory. Mitt Romney did not just lose, Obama won. Big. Again.

I was listening to the radio Tuesday night after the election results came in, and there was all manner of finger-pointing. Some blamed Obama's ground game being more formidable than originally thought, others blamed a Republican candidate who was not as articulate expressing conservative ideals as a Ronald Reagan might have been. And then the funniest and saddest (in my opinion) excuse for the loss came from a Republican operative who blamed everything on Senator wannabes Mourdock and Akin's abortion remarks. The GOP leadership almost immediately began calling for a toned down approach to abortion and social issues in their campaigns, essentially blaming their electoral hemorrhaging on a "misguided" attempt to hold the high moral ground.

Essentially that view is correct. But in expressing that view Republicans have made a diagnosis of themselves that even they do not understand. What the Republican Party does not seem to realize is that this election had little to do with a political process failure, a procedural issue that can be re-calibrated in the next election. They are correct in thinking that the abortion remarks brought down both Mourdock's and Akins' campaigns, and maybe Romney's by extension, but their solution to the problem is their own indictment. Barack Obama won a second term because the people are more willing to put their faith in a man than in a God. Obama won because too many of the people who stand for the sacredness of life, marriage, and sacrifice (the proper building blocks of a society) were not only silent but in many cases complicit. The people of God could easily pass for people of the world, and they voted en masse in the guise of the latter.

Catholics hold the most blame in this regard. A long-standing bulwark against the slaughter of innocent people, the leadership of the Catholic Church has grown soft and complacent. There is a good case to be made that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was in large part responsible for the passage of Obamacare, in their starry-eyed frame of mind after hearing the words "universal healthcare." Catholic priests have failed to adequately express from the pulpit the evil of abortion and its corrupting influence on society's moral structure. The number of Catholics using birth control is statistically indistinguishable from secular society's numbers, despite the fact that chemical and mechanical birth control is expressly forbidden by the Church. Divorce rates are similar. The media and entertainment industries continue to barrel headlong towards a fully homosexually integrated culture, with nary a peep from the same Catholic Church. Far from being the light of the world, let alone the light to the United States, Catholics have devolved into a socially embarrassing version of fundamentalist Christian.

So yes, the Republicans did lose the election in part because of some of their members' remarks about abortion, but not because opposing abortion is a bad platform. Rather, it is because the morals of the American people have evaporated to such a degree that abortion is now a politically losing issue. And to stand for something like the ending of abortion is a career-ending move, so Republicans naturally gravitate towards the mushy lukewarm middle. It is so much easier to compromise one's moral position than to possess a spine and lose.

Democrats in many ways now hold a distinct political advantage. Their party platform is now unambiguous in its support of absolute evils (abortion and the glorification of homosexuality) and people I think gravitate towards absolutes. Especially when those absolutes are as pleasure-seeking and selfish as those the Democrats espouse, and especially in the absence of a strong witness to the truth. Obama's ground game was not merely a GOTV (get out the vote) effort, it was a systematic attempt to create both material and moral dependency on his administration. If you don't believe me, take a look at the following video. This woman is bought and paid for.

The truth is that Obama is an elected official. We the people put him there, maybe not by directly voting for him but quite possibly by not evangelizing the person standing next to us in the grocery checkout line. Obama's corrupt views and morally oppressive policies are a reflection of our lives as citizens. Before we complain that he stands for a tyrannical top-down approach towards the citizens he is meant to govern, we need look no farther than ourselves for the blessing he got to proceed.

So I urge all those people who still refuse to participate in the group-think of secularism to consider two things: number one, realize that we do not have a political problem on our hands, so much as we have a serious moral and social corruption problem; and two, live your life according to the actual dictates of your faith in a visible manner. Especially after this election is no time to hide what we believe, but to make absolutely sure that the truth is on display for the next four years in a way that it hasn't been in this country for many years.

It is time to pick a side. Not a party, not a candidate, but a clearly delineated moral side based on absolute truths. Proclaiming the truth will not necessarily win elections in the short run, but it may win hearts. A democracy (or representative republic) is only as good as the people that constitute it, and when the people are corrupt their leaders will necessarily follow. However, the opposite is also true. When enough people come to realize the true scope and evil of abortion, they will demand its censure by law while simultaneously eliminating the demand for it. When enough people come to grips with the fact that homosexuality erodes the core of a healthy and growing society, then the "gay marriage" argument will cease to hold any political water. And so on...

None of these good things will exist, however, if the truth is not shouted from every rooftop regardless of who we think is listening. I think we failed this time around. Let's not fail again.

Photo by Roxanne Jo Mitchell, via Wikipedia.