Backstage at the final rehearsal of Rob Gardner’s Easter oratorio “Lamb of God” before we invade Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City like a sky full of locusts. Really musical locusts. Except for me-I’m a narrating locust. Let’s lose this locust metaphor.
We’re about to begin a full run-through. A few moments ago, the orchestra began tuning to the oboe’s “A,” which is the traditional way for an orchestra to tune. Then, because it was longer and steadier, they continued tuning, instead, to the feedback from the sound system we’re using, which is precisely 440 cycles per second (or “A”). You can’t always expect that. It’s a gift.
Times have changed. Used to be, if you needed an “F” all you had to do was pick up a telephone and listen to the dial tone (still works on landline phones). Now we’re all using cell phones, which if you even touch them will instead of an “F” give you hip-hop. In various pitches. Or none. No, the feedback in this stake center, standing brave and lonely in the windswept fields west of Utah Lake, is a gift. And that’s what this month’s Backstage Graffiti is all about: The Gift of Music (not locusts; we’re done with those. Plus who wants a gift of locusts? Unless maybe it includes a jar of wild honey.).
Music is a gift from God to us. Nuff said. This column will be, rather, about gifts of music we give to one another
Sally DeFord is the queen of giving music to others. She has a website where you can download sheet music for any purpose-baptisms, funerals, wallpaper, but principally for ward choirs. When she first began offering these gifts, all the professional musicians I know got mad. We got mad because somebody was giving away stuff that we had to charge for in order to feed our families. My anger, however, went almost completely away when I was handed some sheets of music to sing in the bass section of our ward choir that had been *downloaded from Sister DeFord and darned if it wasn’t good music. A little solemn sometimes, but good.
(*It was the music that was downloaded and not our ward choir. Okay?)
Also I figured “Hey, maybe she’s married to a director of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC, whose major distinction is that they’re the second largest bank on the planet of Earth, and whose minor distinction is that they hold the mortgage on my house) and she doesn’t need the money!”
A couple of weeks ago in a church classroom somebody reported on a person of great faith who paid tithing in advance on the amount of money he needed for a certain project and then was blessed with the money. So, in a great leap of faith, I’m going to offer, as a gift to you, a couple of pieces of choral music right now, in full expectation that my wife will shortly be offered a directorship in the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. The first is called “Tender Mercies” and the second is called “I Am Not Ashamed.” Both are “ward choir tested.”
Also I’m giving you the gift of a heads-up about this weekend’s run of “Lamb of God” at Abravanel Hall. (March 15-16). The heads-up is the gift, because you have to pay to go to it.
But it really is “gifty” because it’s like corn. Not that it’s corny; there’s a metaphor coming. If you pay a buck for one ear of corn, then let it dry out and plant the kernels, you wind up with a whole field of corn. This is pretty much like a gift. If you had this measure of foresight, you might even be willing to pay ten or twenty bucks for that one ear of corn and still regard next year’s harvest as a gift.
I’ve already received more gift than I can hold from the performers of this piece. They’re just flat glorious. Depth and commitment and hear melting talent. It’d be worth the price of your ticket, plus the value of all of your seed corn, plus all of next year’s harvest, if all you got to hear was Michelle Sundwall, who plays Mary Magdalene. She will take your breath away. No kidding. Miss her and you’ll kick yourself. (Not pleasant. Once I was trying a fancy dive at a high school choir swimming party and kicked myself in the nose, breaking it. ((Two years earlier, I had broken the very same nose when I emerged from the dressing room and didn’t want anybody to see how skinny I was so I ran across the pavement and dove into the shallow end. This too was at a high school choir swimming party. Being born with the gift of music can be dangerous. So you should give it away quick.)))
(For those extra-terrestrial readers of Backstage Graffiti ((whom my editors assure me are out there in multitudes)) I should say that parking for your craft is available on the roof of Abravanel Hall, kitty-corner from Temple Square to the southwest. It’s triangle shaped. And it’s free! ((Be very careful not to land on either of the more prominent roofs on Temple Square. If you land on one of them, you’ll just slide off. If you land on the other, your craft will be severely punctured. If you try to land on the gold statue, you may receive a gift of music the intrusiveness of which you might not have anticipated.
(((On this subject of “who reads Meridian Magazine,” I recently attended a luncheon given by The Editors. Only a handful of authors were invited, chosen by how long they’d been writing for the magazine, or by how famous they were, or by how spiritual/intellectual they were, or, as in my case, by how near they lived to The Editors’ house and how hungry they looked. The Eds were telling us how widespread the readership of the magazine is, geographically ((((not personally)))). Scot Proctor, one of the Eds, reported that until very recently we had one reader who regularly logged in from somewhere in the Vatican. Then it stopped. He was mystified about this, but his astute daughter made the observation ((((obvious to me)))) that the One Meridian Reader had retired. Or resigned. ((((It would be inappropriate for us to speculate here as to why he retired. Or resigned.))))))))) )
There is another way that I can give you the gift of music. I can give you a home concert. This happens. This is fun. Big group, little group, doesn’t matter. A few weeks ago I showed up at a lovely home in Orem where I was scheduled to play and only the hostess was there. I would have been happy to serenade her alone, but was even more happy when three of the thirty she’d invited trickled in. (There was a flu epidemic, and a BYU game, and a blizzard was occurring.) I had as much fun as I’d had in a long time. Here’s how to do it:
It may be apparent to some that this is not a pure gift. I want people at these cozy events to buy CDs, particularly the most recent, “Roses And Hope.” But nobody has to. Instead, you could go to itunes and listen to twenty-seven seconds out of the middle of each of the songs.
Wait, this might be a gift of music from iTunes instead of from me! I guess that’s okay-even Santa Claus winks at those who attribute his gifts to Mom, Dad, or Aunt Hazel. Hey, that reminds me-here’s a Christmas gift (please forgive the overlong introduction):
Maybe the essential factor in determining whether or not a gift of music is really a gift is just how it feels. Does it feel like a gift? It’s always supposed to. It’s meant to–even if when you host a free home concert so your friends can come and hear Sally DeFord there’s a table in the corner where, if you want, and only if you want, you can buy shares in the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation.