... in a musical experience

Published on 09 Nov 2018
Instrument score for Neptune the Mystic from The Planets Suite by Holst

I recently went to Leicester and while I was there went to an immersive 'virtual orchestra experience' – a free exhibition in the centre of the town. There were speakers set out throughout several darkened rooms, playing pieces of classical music. In each room was a section of the orchestra was represented, by scores set out on stands, which you could follow the music on, and by screens which showed the different musicians playing. What this meant was that you could get a close view of what it was like playing orchestral music from the point of view of an individual musician. At the end was an opportunity to lie down on cushions and listen to the music in that way. 

I played in an orchestra very briefly when I was in school, and of course have been to many classical concerts at big venues like the Albert Hall or the Barbican. What I found impressive about this was how immersive it was. They were playing a piece of music I know well (Holst's Planet Suite) yet it sounded different to me when I was surrounded by the sound. The thing that I also found interesting was following the scores. But what I liked the best was the sense that each musician may only play for very few of the bars of the whole piece. Many of the most impressive sounding instruments, such as timpani, play least of all. They have to count out 18 bars rest or even stay silent for a whole section (eg, 'Neptune') of the longer suite. Other musicians may play a lot on one piece, but still have pauses where they play less, as each section of the orchestra takes it in turn to lead. That all might sound very obvious but it made a deep impression on me. 

All too often we think that we are only contributing to something if we are in charge or taking a leading role. Yet each of us contributes something to the whole, whether we are referring to ensemble performances, working in a team, being part of a sports squad, on a committee, being part of a parish or even being a member of the Universal Church. The greatest skill we can learn from the orchestral musicians is learning the patience to bide our time to take an active role, and allowing the space for others to take their turn, supporting them in that. The last stand with a score on it was we went round was that of the conductor, who holds everything together. He can't play all the instruments – that is the job of the musicians – but he holds the piece in balance, just as God holds our lives in balance.