From the Chaplain

Article excerpt

Before the First Note: Getting Centered

WHENEVER I am about to give a sermon or a lecture or perform on the flute, I first need to get "centered." Conductors and organists know all about this. Think of choir rehearsals: people arrive with many things going on in their lives: a fight with their boss, a sick child, a job interview, results from a medical test. The amount of mental and bodily energy they have to support their voice on pitch with an unforced, clear sound is not much until they get centered. Or think of performing on the organ. You sit there for a moment, and before the first note you get centered. You turn on the blower, take a deep breath, release from your mind all the other things you need to do, set your stops, position your hands and feet, and begin.

The need to be centered became especially vivid to me last month when I was asked to preach at a service of worship featuring the Mass Number 2 in E Minor by Anton Bruckner (1824-96). I read several biographies and books of musical analysis and listened to a fine recording of the work. I found Bruckner's story to be a parable of what it means to become centered in one's life and art. Because Bruckner is one of history's legendary organists, I think his story may have special appeal to the readers of this journal. Upon receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of Vienna, Bruckner said, "I cannot find the words to thank you as I would wish, but if there were an organ here, I could tell you."1

Bruckner was a devout Roman Catholic. His mother had a beautiful soprano voice and sang in the High Masses of their local church. As a small child, Bruckner often sat on the organ bench next to his father, who played for the services. After his father died, when Anton was only twelve years old, his mother took him to sing in the choir and to live in the community of St. Florian, a monastery with a magnificent organ.

In his adult years, during times of stress and exhaustion, Bruckner often returned to St. Florian to find again his spiritual and artistic center. As one of his biographers wrote: St. Florian "reflects virtually every facet of his musical output: the glory of its Baroque architecture, cradled in the gentle hillside of the Upper Austrian landscape, the fervor of its cloistered and mystical Catholicism, the sound of the great organ . …