27 March 2015

Oakland Civic Orchestra Plays Again!

This last Sunday OCO played music from the Americas including some little-known and seldom heard pieces. I have included the first movement from Villa Lobos' Symphonietta #1 and a piece by Bruce Reiprich called "Lullaby" played by our own concertmaster Christina Owens. The composer attended from Arizona and you will spot Mr Reiprich at the end when the flowers are handed out!

Addendum: I received the following question regarding the legitimacy (validity) of my playing in an orchestra: I am adding it and my response here rather than starting a new post for it. Others may be wondering about this as well.

[[Dear Sister if you are obligated to live in solitude and silence, then how does playing in an orchestra fit in with this? Apparently there is someone posting that some hermits are not really hermits if they leave their hermitage too much or work fulltime outside the hermitage and I wondered what you thought of this especially since you leave your hermitage each week.]]

Thanks for the question. By way of introduction it is important to realize that Canon 603 reads that I am obligated to stricter separation from the world, assiduous prayer and penance, and the silence of solitude lived according to a Rule I write myself and which is approved and supervised by my Bishop (and other superiors he designates). It should be understood that I am not obligated to reclusion nor to absolute physical silence. The excursions outside the hermitage I choose to make are those which are necessary (shopping, doctor's visits, Mass and parish responsibilities) or, if they are a matter of recreation, something which adds to or enhances "the silence of solitude" (being alone with God for the sake of others) and other non-negotiable elements of eremitical life.

In my own life, music, but especially playing violin (usually a very solitary activity), has always been a profound mediator of God's presence to me while playing music with others has been a significant experience of community. I still remember the first time I played in orchestra; it was a revelation! I was blown away by the sense of power and holiness of what I experienced there. I was only 11 or 12 at the time and that memory is as vivid as any (other) prayer experience I have ever had. It was my first genuine experience of the essence and meaning of community and it awed me.

We practiced our parts at home alone (something that was always akin to prayer for me and a powerful experience of tapping into something greater than myself); we did that during rehearsals too of course, but as a group something entirely new came to be --- something incredibly greater than the sum of the individual parts. Moreover, we came together to play the music and in the process learned to listen to and cooperate with one another, to blend our sound with and anticipate the needs of stand mates and section members, to interpret the silent gestures of the conductor, and to be responsible to one another so the orchestra as a whole could succeed in interpreting the notes and marks on the page of a composer who spoke to us silently and mysteriously over the centuries (another and different experience of transcendence). It might surprise you to learn that during the rehearsal there is actually relatively little talk or socializing in the usual sense; while highly communal, this kind of music-making is also a matter of profound solitude in the best sense of that term. If you look at what I write about eremitical solitude as a dialogical reality and especially about the silence of solitude as the result of communion with God lived for the sake of others, you may see that playing with an orchestra reprises the very same dynamics.

In any case, this activity has been life giving to me and a source of my contem-plative spirituality for more than fifty years --- long before I knew God by name or had embraced Catholicism. It is part of my coming to faith as well as to eremitical life and it is still a source of faith as well as part of understanding the potential of eremitical life. It has helped shape my sense of obedience (hearkening --- listening and responding appropriately), enlightened me regarding the invariable link between eremitical solitude and community, underscored the relation between prayer and penance (any activity or practice that helps prepare for, extend, and regularize prayer), and it has provided many varied inspiring and sustaining experiences of transcendence.

So long as I can truly accommodate orchestral playing with an eremitical life of the silence of solitude,  or more accurately, so long as it contributes to this life rather than detracting from it, it will continue to be a significant part of my life. For this reason I have written the one evening (@3 hours) each week I play with the orchestra into my Rule. I have done something similar with time I come together with friends from the orchestra for breakfast (pancakes!) and either quartets or quintets on some Saturday mornings.

Hermits and Fulltime work or time out of Cell:

I agree that a hermit who leaves her hermitage too often or spends too much time with others is not really a hermit. I have written myself about instances of people who work everyday outside the hermitage in highly social jobs and are not living the terms of the canon. They are not hermits. Flexibility is certainly allowed in any eremitical life and can be important to living it with integrity, but one cannot allow the actual terms of the canon to be contravened in the process; the terms of the canon must truly define and describe the life one lives even when there are necessary adaptations made for the sake of living the life itself. Remember that Carthusians, for instance, take time one day each week for a long walk together which is necessary to their living the solitude of the rest of the week well. I doubt anyone would seriously argue this makes them less than true full-time hermits. In any case, neither this nor 3 hours playing with an orchestra one evening a week, are the same as leaving the hermitage for 10-12 hours five days a week for a highly social job or spending the majority of one's life outside one's cell.

Everyone living eremitical solitude has to take care to build in sufficient recreation of a kind which contributes to one's more usual schedule, prayer, and solitude. The quality of this contribution is discerned and discussed with one's director and superiors. It cannot be an excuse, pretense, or mere distraction; it must truly contribute to the vocation ---  a little like the desert Father's story about the occasional unstringing or relaxation of a bow being important in allowing one to protect the bow's ability to draw and loose arrows with real power the rest of the time (think here of a violin bow instead which must also be loosened between periods of playing if it is to retain its strength and resiliency) --- but far richer too because of the dimension of profound sharing involved. For me one evening a week spent playing orchestral music (that is, working to learn and make music with others) provides many things which are absolutely integral to contemplative life, but not least some of the recreation and community as well as the discipline eremitical life itself requires.