The Divine Mirror of Performing

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I speak little on my blog about my ‘identity’ as a Christian. It is a deeply rooted part of my DNA and a method of expression that I have grown up with, though something I find difficult to speak out about due to people’s assumptions about what it might mean to be a Christian in the world today. I am a Christian just as much as I am a musician and understand that people have a variety of ways in which they feel spiritually nourished or sustained. I am grateful for the Christian authors that can express this universality of faith and connection- a worthiness and belonging present in all beings and not earned through membership to a religious organisation or subscription to dogma.

 

I have just today finished reading ‘The Universal Christ’ by Richard Rohr and have found it such a wonderful and humbling experience. It has certainly been a challenge for me in the past to translate the physical actions and presence of Jesus into the ‘now’ of Christians, non-Christians and all people in search of a deeper sense of connection. I was so grateful to respond to the image of ‘Christ’ portrayed by Rohr as ‘being’ itself- the life, love and divine presence that we all experience, regardless of belief or ethnicity.

 

The book concludes with a meditation written by Rohr entitled ‘The Divine Mirror’. The meditation resonated so deeply with the way in which I’d love to see musical performance. Rohr writes ‘A mirror receives and reflects back what it sees. It does not judge, adjust, or write commentary. We are the ones who do that. A mirror simply reveals. And invites responsibility… One day, the mirror will reflect in both directions, And we will see over there what was allowed in here’

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Performance provides us with the opportunity to witness this divine mirror. We are offering a gift to our audience, holding up a mirror to them and asking them to share the space with us. Often we are reflected back such varied and wonderful responses from people, people that are willing to reflect back the ways in which we have affected them. Our audience sees us and have the grace to hold up to us what they have seen in our playing. From a different angle, perhaps in a performance where few people were present or criticism was received, this vision of a mirror is still such an important image. Rohr explains how a mirror ‘simply reveals’– we might have the opportunity to learn so much through opening ourselves, but often we shut this down when we write a commentary about the reasons why our ego hasn’t been satisfied. Why haven’t we received such praise, such a mark as we were hoping, a subsequent opportunity.

 

We try to control the reflection instead of letting this mirror show us who we are authentically through music in the moment. This authenticity means acknowledging that our performances are a collection of experiences. We learn that we experience the deepest sense of reflection and connection when neither we, nor the audience holds an expectation on the other. We give, they receive and each share their authentic experience. This could explain why some of my favourite performing experiences have occurred when I’ve least expected them. In a small venue with a modest amount of people, often non-musicians, who are grateful to receive what you have prepared to share with them with no expectations of you, and you none of them.

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What a wonderful opportunity we have as musicians to share presence and beauty with others. The experience may be comfortable, exciting, uncomfortable or traumatic, but surrendering to the mirror shows us how all these outcomes are equal in their importance. They are reflecting back to us the wholeness of our being in all its success and failings and help our creativity to grow through it. To disregard the mirror is to keep the creative and spiritual life to such a small degree that we cannot grow. The reflections of nature, animals, music, books, pictures, relationships etc. create us and save us, let’s open ourselves to them and not shut ourselves down. Thank you Richard Rohr for your wonderful light and perspective and allowing me to live imperfectly!

The Living Elgar Legacy

Returning from the Elgar Festival I am reflecting, more than anything, on the uniqueness of Elgar’s legacy in Worcester and the three counties in general. I’ve often been asked, and wondered myself, the origins of my Elgarian interest and I feel this weekend brought many things about it to light.

The community of Worcester Cathedral is still a strongly musical one, entrenched in a vibrant 20th century English tradition. They are all proud and committed to their composer and what he means to them. Many of them have grown up singing his music, some original members of the Elgar Chorale and friends of Herbert Sumsion, organist of Worcester in the latter years of Elgar’s life. One certain factor to their devotion that arose was the encouragement from the late Dr Donald Hunt. The founder of the Elgar Chorale, Donald kept Elgar alive all around Worcester and had an ability to transmute the beauty of Elgar from music into community and into Worcester’s heart and soul.

It was such a lovely experience to talk with like-minded people at the festival about the ways in which Elgar’s music grows. The transformation of the Sea Pictures in an arrangement for choir and orchestra by Donald Fraser last night was one example of this. My wonderful professor Raphael Wallfisch’s performance of Elgar’s Cello Concerto moved such a vast amount of people, many of whom found themselves moved to tears and compelled to stand to applaud at the end. This is a piece so many of us know, but it’s ability still to transform is fascinating.

Elgar appears to have fused himself into the very soul of Worcester Cathedral and the Worcestershire countryside. What it is about Elgar I still can’t quite express, but I know the deeply spiritual, soulful and yet spirited nuance of his music is enough to sustain me for a long while to come.