The Reverend Mark DeWolfe Sermon
MY ARGUMENT WITH GLENN GOULD
I invite you to join me in a time of meditation first spoken than silence.
There is a spirit which brings us to gather in wonder and in worship. It is the spirit of life calling us to reference to get out of our own being and becoming. To reference the splendor of life wherever we find it in plant or animal fish or bird insect or human. To respect and revere the web of life the ecology of nature the one mess of creation. It is the spirit of truth calling us to in our integrity and wisdom. The voice of conscience in telling us to choose what is good and right and just in human society and relations. The impulse to know life and reality in all its fullness of the sheer magnitude of all there is to know turns into wonder and wonder into wisdom and wisdom into July. It is the spirit of love calling us to be one with each other in all the pain and glory and mystery of the sweet and sad existence. It is the spirit that says be healed the whole in body mind and soul. Overcome estrangement. Forgive and be forgiven. Make peace. Be reconciled. Lay claim to joy and compassion there are no grudges what can’t be changed to let it go let it be. Change the only thing you can change with any luck and grace your own inner being and response to life. There is a spirit that brings us together in wonder and in worship. It is the spirit of life. Truth and love calling us to be all that we can be and more. Children of the universe daughters and sons of the most high. I just joined in silence that night we make here in our own hearts the prompting of the spirit.
The. A man. She. Richard Kostelanetz is an American music critic who contributed the selection on Glenn Gould to William Kilburn Canada guide to the peaceable kingdom. That centennial look at Canada’s national life and mind and spirit. And he entitled at the Glenn Gould variations. Okay I’d like to help you Glenn Gould told me over the phone but I have 2 stipulations you shan’t interview any of my family or friends they won’t honor your request second that we do as much of this is possible over the phone. That was the beginning of a friendship that promises to be telephonically mine for years to come though an impatient man cool this remarkably generous with the amount of time spent on the phone even returning as soon as possible the calls his answering service collects but he is reluctant to make face to face contact. We have spoken at all times of the day and night between distances varied distances as various as a few miles across New York City to New York Toronto his home from a few minutes to over 2:00 hours let’s talk again soon all the best. Goal takes the cue of Marshall McLuhan a local acquaintance and makes the telephone and extension of himself and he not only does as much business as possible by phone but would sooner telephone his family and friends extend himself literally into their ears then visit them or even have them visit him. His parents who live some 0 miles away receive his calls often. But he sees them only a few times a year mostly for brief they cations he has a secretary whom he meets once a year for a ritual drank but in the evening he dictates letters and essays to her over the phone and the following afternoon she sends him the carbons by taxi cab. A telephone conversation before bedtime in tandem with Nembutal helped him get to sleep. Gould lives alone spends most of his day at home sees few people nonetheless he is constantly in touch with everyone important with him to him at once with the minimum of fuss. His exploitation of the telephone is only one facet of a technologically sophisticated existence for gold takes McLuhan’s ideas about the electronic media more seriously than McLuhan takes himself. Some years ago cool deduced that not only was concert giving a real pain but the performances he offered we’re not as perfect as those available on record. One was forced to compete with oneself he remembers because I couldn’t do as well those feudal concerts reduced my inclination to practice to nail. So in 1964 he confirmed the decision made 4 years earlier and completely gave up the old fashioned custom of concert giving in order to channel his performing primarily into new technologies of recording machines radio transmission and television. He frankly sees no justification for playing compromised performances before me are thousands of people when records extend his best rendition into millions of living rooms. Moreover the act of putting a certain piece on record frees you to go on to something else particularly pieces unfamiliar to the conservative concert hall audience. Beyond that the benefits for Gould are as much psychological as a static for where he was once a notorious Hypericum hypochondriac now he says since I stopped giving concerts I’ve scarcely had so much as a sniffle most of my earlier illnesses were psychosomatic I share protest against my regimen. These past 4 years have been the best of my life. The second reading comes from severe Faulconer Sylvia’s minister of the Jefferson Unitarian church in golden Colorado. Titles this piece a touch of grace. The gathering together of nations of groups of people in their alternate concern creates something more cost as a whole that is greater than its parts. **** Germany was far greater than its individual members. Judaism is far more powerful and it he says then the individual you. Are playing so much more than the script and the players and that’s more than that feeling of more than is grace. It is important to realize that that more that grace can lean towards the demonic as well as towards the good for instance it is idolatry to use grace 2 wins and capsule like the religious into one book. I am the way the only way using grace in this way is demonic destructive so tonic. It smacks of the crusades of the witch hunts and the bloody streets of Ulster. On the other hand is the grace that leads toward the constructive. The service of the living tradition at General Assembly is like that for there is a transcendence a deep offer all that is blessedly human not just for Unitarianism or Celeste but for all humans Martin Buber calls it the I am now it’s a grace that occurs between you and others you and god. The real question is not who parcels out this grace but what responsibility do we have knowing it exists that we are sometimes part of this transcendence is one person responsible if the grace leads toward the demonic is Hitler totally responsible for the Holocaust Jim Jones for the guy and the suicides the minister for the polarization of the church. So often emphasis is placed on the leaders with Jesus we focus on the leader and we miss the people. With sun Myung moon we focus on the leader but we missed the people in the church we focus on the minister and we miss the people if we do not recognize the people than we demean them. Jesus was a religious leader who encouraged all people he met to tap into their own strength and then to be open to experience grace as it happens yet religious leaders national leaders parents even congregations can say no to that yes inside of us they can destroy the possibilities of being home and therefore more than a whole that touch of grace. We must ignore those leaders and groups who deny our yes inside of us in our most intimate point of contact with all other things. Grace is not predictable. It catches us off guard. Yet I believe that we are touched by grace far more than we realize and often miss those moments of grace when they come. Somewhere in my studies at the seminary I was given a 6.system for being more aware of those touches of grace one notice the moments in your life. To own it yourself. 3 let others own themselves. 4 no we are not alone. 5. Ask. 6. Listen. Let us rejoice in the graceful moments in our lives joining him number 141 Christina Georgina Rossetti’s sing notes of love. This morning I wish to argue with Glenn Gould. Unfair for certain sins Gould is these 2 years patent cannot reply. But we may also be certain that Gould’s memory shall outlasts the memory of me and his life his art his thoughts and his music shall be preserved as long as western society and its descendants are around. So imagine this argument has a bit of David yours truly against Goliath Glenn Gould. I first came across Glenn Gould as a teenager when my high school girlfriend played a recording of his playing of Bach pieces as I recall but I don’t remember which ones we were amazed at his interpretation his passion and even more strangely his humming along with the melody. I remember being astonished to learn that he had announced he would never play a concert ever again that he would restrict himself only to recording. Yeah like ASU like gold is not here this morning to defend himself. Tells me an anecdotal accounts of how Google came to swear off from public performance it seems the gold was set to play his first concert tour of Europe the opening date was I believe in Milan I may have that wrong. European concert audiences have strong ideas about interpretation they are as Kostelanetz said conservative bye bye rule and after the opening few bars of what believed was his personal interpretation of the peace. The audience began to jeer and Pierre tells me throw tomatoes now how they had known to bring tomatoes to the concert hall I don’t know. Either gold’s reputation had preceded him. Or Italian audiences bring tomatoes just in case. Or all Milano is go to the concert hall after finishing their grocery shopping. Gold here tells me began not only to tell the audience what he thought of them but to throw the tomatoes back at the audience. The next morning every concert hall into which she was booked across Europe canceled his performances fearing a repeat of the Milan riots and Gould announced to acquire a list press performance is dead. Well the selection I read from Richard Kostelanetz this morning indicates that it was not just the tomatoes which just waited gold from performing. First of all he was entranced by the power of electronic technology to bring people together also he was empowered by the mechanism to produce perfect performances that is P. pieces which work on a flawed by his standards in technique and interpretation. I no longer did you have to live with the mistakes which creep into performance he could go back and re record. Third electronic communication allowed him to distance himself from the audience to make his interpretations his relationship with the composer without the attitudes of audiences to interfere. Recording television and radio allowed him a one way communication without feedback from the audience. About the same time that I heard that Glenn Gould recording I attended a concert of Indian classical music by Ravi Shankar the sitarist superstar of Indian music. Shankar’s concert taught me much about Indian classical music I bought his records but the records were nowhere near the same experience as hearing him perform live. The reason Indian classical music is improvised always rather than having every note written and the performer committed to that note. Indian raga as outlined basic structures within which the performer improvises just say you have heard one raga is to say that you have heard sonatas in one raga performed by 2 performers is to say that you have heard some not as in the same key by 2 different composers. So no 2 performances of what would look to us on the program is the same piece are in fact identical. From a western point of view we would not even say they were the same pieces. A classical Indian music concert is an opportunity to experience spiritual communion. The performer plays the rock as sensing the mood of the day not only in his or her own heart but in the mind of the audience as well. The audience contributes to the performance by being presence. They are communing with the artist. Years later I had an opportunity to meet Ravi Shankar he was a guest at a hotel where I was working at that time as the desk manager. He had played a concert the night before at the Berklee school of music I had been unable to attend because of work I apologize to him for not being able to be there his road manager commented that I could have listens to the broadcast and I replied that it is not the same thing at all as being there Mr Shankar nodded wisely and grinned. As a reformed actor I can tell you that I have experienced the way an audience contributes to our performance. Her single playing in an empty hall is not the same thing as doing it with people watching. And people watching vary from night to night so that no performance of any play is identical to the one before it when it comes to dramatic performance 2 plus 2 always equals more than 4 the audience adds an attitude a contribution one a performer feels as very real almost tangible. Actors respond sometimes well and sometimes badly. I have watched a comic actor try to hard for laughs because he sensed that the audience was in a rough mood he is over reaching sank the performance deeper than the Alaska trench. I have also seen actors sense that the audience was with them caught in their web and the actors take us all on a trip to the stars. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t and whether it does or does not it’s part of the peculiar alchemy of human relations. We are more aware of each other than we know psychologists have traced what they called the perception of minimal queues the signs of feeling of attitude. Other pinion we may not even know we are getting off. It is as if there were a sixth sense not mind reading exactly but a subtle awareness of the response of the people around us. This makes possible the audience’s participation with the performer in the performance and it was what Glenn Gould trusted the least. The audience’s response made gold nervous he wound himself up like a toy truck running tighter and tighter and faster running in fear of their response and developed this psychosomatic illnesses as a result. Psychosomatic illness I often say is nature’s way of telling you to slow down. And that is what it was for gold no no doubt for him personally his decision to quit performing was a wise one. But there was much he gave up when he did it. Much admittedly that he did not particularly value. But which I do value. Gold did identify a time in his life when he enjoyed the power of performance the power to shape the responses of his audience to be adored for his playing that power he enjoyed when he was a church organist a profession he gave up in his teens. When he became a concert pianist the power of performance southward for him it lost its luster and was replaced by distrust of the alchemy a recognition that he could not control everything. That happened in performance not only was there a chance that he might not interpret the phrase precisely to his liking. There was also the possibility that the audiences contribution would pervert the product. With recording there was no possibility. The sound had an integrity on record that no matter how we heard it no matter how we as an audience responded the sound was still there to be heard by someone else the sound he put out was firm and unshakable if it was on a recording. And yet almost paradoxically it was flexible in its ability to be taken back Gould gave up performing in order to have that stability and that flexibility. I could never do that. It would be like preaching it would be like writing sermons that never got preached. Chris Rabal has frequently chastised me for using the expression that I finished my sermon on Saturday night. Because in fact the sermon is never finished until it’s been preached. I don’t stand up here for my health you know. I stand up here and share these thoughts with you that we might somehow get a better grip on truth. That between the 2 of us ministering congregation we can sample some of that alchemy which happens when people gather in groups. People gathered in groups I gave up theater work to enter the ministry giving up the audience for the congregation it was a matter of choosing intense you intends to get something when you come here what do you call it intellectual stimulation or a spiritual fix for the week or a glimpse of the beloved community of love and justice. An audience comes principally to be amused and I now choose to work within the field of worship rather than the field of entertainment. But there is a similar something we can categorize at work in both it is a powerful something and it can be used for good or for ill. Glenn Gould was often challenged on his decision never to perform publicly you may have heard his debate on the CBC which was rebroadcast recently as part of the anniversary celebrations of the F. and stereo network. One line he used reminded me of the demonic side of this certain something when Gould accused his per his opponents of allowing himself to be a victim of the mob. A victim of the mob. When I heard that I realized that we do indeed have a negative experience and a low opinion of what happens when people gather in groups. Groups have little sense are easily led into scandalous behavior every riot begins not with a single person throwing a stone but with an angry mob gathering. The first image I had when I heard cooled use that analogy was of the Nuremberg war rallies the massive adoration of the madman Hitler the blind worship of the beast who gave us the final solution. Mob psychology has shown us the dark side of the special alchemy. But the dark side is only one side the experience of the dark is tempered by the experience of the light. I have felt the magic of the special alchemy not only in moments of performance but in moments of worship and in moments of political demonstrations as well. One of the most powerful examples in worship is the annual service of the living tradition at the U. UA’s General Assembly. Over 1000 Unitarianism arsonists gathered to honor the tradition of our ministry in its past for all traditions are their pasts and in its on going life. I always feel a chill down my spine when we all rise and sing the hymn ranked by rank again we stand. There is a special power in gathering us together to honor our religious leadership and the unique faith that proclaims the power is positive and enriching humbling because one finds oneself in a large C.. But encouraging for one feels one ‘s place to be right and proper this is feeling created by the act of worship and it is powerful grace. So we are talking or is the first I’ve seen to use the theological term grace. For both its heavenly and demonic qualities we are used to ignoring the negative side of this more than and rejoicing in its positive expression. But she is right the same mechanism by which we experienced positive grace is the alchemical process by which people in large groups do damage. She points out that the mechanism by which grace becomes demonic when people attempt to imprison it in one place or to use it for the domination of others and she points out our responsibility for monitoring it for being aware that it exists and that it can be used. And misused if we attempt to use grace we misuse that. Glenn Gould ignored the positive aspects of grace in his concert playing. Confronted with its negative power he fled from it. Liberal theologians on the other hand and our liberal religious tradition have often ignored the demonic side and in fits of the Nile fled from the harm that people in groups can do. So this sermon is not only an argument with Glenn Gould it is an argument from his experience against the liberal faith in communities both sides are valid our liberal faith calls the goons to recognize what they are missing the possibility of being touched by sublime grace and golds rejection of the mob as he called it is a valid warning that the more than we experience in communities has its demonic affects. And so we must do well to watch for the moments of grace in our lives for their uses and abuses for each of us is more than one we are parts of the whole. Each of us is not the all the we take part in the all. Grace is there for you to touch it it will touch you when you open yourself to it. And even when you look for it it will catch you off guard. And so I ask you to remember Sylvia 6.system if you want to know grace increase your awareness of its presence. Then. Notice the moments of grace in your life. Only yourself. Let others own themselves. No we are not alone. Ask. And listen. All.
Reverend Mark DeWolfe