My passion is to help others in the community, young, old, and everyone in between, find relevance and joy in learning, performing or listening to classical music.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Musical synergy that will take your breath away

One of the reasons I like to be a musician is because playing music gives me social experiences that would be difficult to encounter in one's average, everyday life.  Sometimes these spine-tingling moments occur for me at predictable times - during a chamber music performance, accompanying a choir, working with a young musician who is experiencing joy in music for the first time, performing alongside my husband - but other times I am caught completely off guard.  Yesterday I had one of those moments but it wasn't just with a handful of people like it often is, it was with a church full of people.  

I play piano at our church on a fairly regular basis, but more often than not, I am either accompanying a youth choir, playing a solo for a special music slot in the service, or playing alongside the organ during the hymns.  During times of congregational singing, I love the feeling of being able to subtly alter the mood of a congregation just by adding a new timbre.  Yesterday, because our organist was on vacation, I was taken out of this solely supportive role and given the opportunity to be a facilitator between the music and the people in attendance.  Whereas the congregation usually feels more like an audience to me, this time they were active participants in a completely magical experience in which all of us took flight on the wings of sound and word.

Synergy.  It was truly a moment of synergy; a moment when the notes coming from the piano and the voices of the church community mixed together to produce an energy in the air much more powerful than either musical instrument alone could ever have created.  At one point I moved the hymn up an octave so that the voices could take the lead.  The sound coming at me from the congregation when I did this completely took my breath away.  I had to remind myself to keep playing the piano.  Now that I think back, I probably could have just stopped altogether and maybe I should have.  Doesn't matter much now but it does show how powerful that moment was.

So why write about this experience?  Why spend an hour writing about a moment that lasted, at most, a minute or two?  Because I think it's important to remember, as musicians, as performers, how magical, how enchanting, how spiritual music can be.  And I think it's important to acknowledge the intense musicality that is inherent in each and every member of one's audience and the powerful experience their engagement can produce.  Although I am actually not a "believer" in the traditional Christian or religious sense - I am thankful for spiritual moments such as the one I experienced this past Sunday.  I will never forget the feeling I had when I let go of being a performer and chose to ride on the wings of the congregation's voices instead.  

Synergy.  Beautiful, spectacular synergy.  


  1. Always go with your gut instinct, Erica - whatever your personal beliefs. That's your connection with "upstairs" and what makes music such a transformational experience each time we enable ourselves to connect "with source". I argue that we need to jump off the "perfection bandwagon" and return to the essence of creation.

  2. I really liked your blog, Erica! I also listened to your 3rd movement of Beethoven PC3, and I thought your sound was very well balanced and "within" the spirit of the period - well done!
    I'll be a frequent visitor, from now on..
    All best, christos

  3. Always great to hear from you, Marion. I like how you put those thoughts into words. And you already know how I feel about the perfection bandwagon - I'm going to let it pass me by ;-)

  4. I'm glad you like the blog, Christos, and please do stop by when you get a chance. I don't promise anything profound, but there's always something going on here! And thanks for taking the time to comment - it's great to know who's here and to find out your thoughts and reactions.


  5. Here's a beautiful thing, Erica, I (as song leader) was awash in the same beauty at that very moment. It was not something that you or I made was outside of ourselves and, yes, powerful. A woman who was visiting our service that day said to me after worship, "this congregation really sings!" She felt it too.

    It was an early experience of this powerful, outside of myself, deeply spiritual experience in music that grabbed me and has never let me go. When I was 16 years old, our church choir was singing "The Heavens are Telling the Glory of God" from Haydn's Creation and it seemed to me as if heaven were breaking in on us as we sang. Words fail to describe the power of that experience for me.

    Later, I was blessed to sing a Morton Lauridson piece with the Wichita Chamber Chorale in Chartre Cathedral (I think it was O Magnum Mysterium) in the stunning ancient beauty of architecture and stained glass. I could not sing for the beauty, joy, reverence and awe that took my breath away when the sound of human voices reverberated in those ancient arches, as they had done so for centuries.

    Again with the WCC, presenting the Durufle Requiem, in honor of the soldiers from Wichita KS who had given their lives as they liberated the city of Orleans, France during World War II, it seemed to me as if the music itself created a cathedral of sound in the air before us that transcended both time and space. It is as real to me now as I remember it, as it was when we sang "in paradisum..."

    These "heaven breaking through" moments in music have wooed me so strongly that I have spent my entire professional life making music in worship in the hope that together we can create the likelihood that this powerful experience will happen again and again, both for myself and for others.

    Not a bad reason to go to work each day.
    Thanks for sharing the journey, Erica.

  6. Thank you so much, Leigh Anne, for sharing those insights and examples of music in action! Music truly is a gift for anyone who opens themselves up to it :-)