Monday, March 19, 2012

One of those moments

I got the last seat for today's Bach at One, in Trinity Wall Street's St. Paul's Chapel. While the old pews, their white paint scratched by exhausted first responders, have been moved, it is still a memorial to 9/11. A banner declaring TO NEW YORK CITY AND ALL THE RESCUERS KEEP YOUR SPIRITS UP... OKLAHOMA LOVES YOU! still hangs from the organ loft. But for the Mondays of Lent, the Trinity Choir and Baroque Orchestra are presenting musical liturgies, drawing mainly from Bach, which strive valiantly to make a concert and liturgical space in a public museum. My seat was near the entrances, and I was acutely aware of waves of tourists making their way through images and relics of 9/11. Tourist whispers efface baroque violas, but in the end the gentle chaos surging around it gave the music a new pathos.

The main piece today (after the 6th Brandenburg Concerto, for two violas) was Bach's early funeral cantata "Gottes Zeit is allerbeste Zeit," BWV 106. I mused on the necessary repetition of the words sung in a bass aria Bestelle dein Haus; denn du wirst sterben / und nicht lebendig bleiben! (Put your house in order; for you will die / and not remain alive!), which put me in mind of Heidegger. A few minutes later, however, the same bass began singing a glorious arioso Heute wirst du mit mir im Paradies sein (Today you will be with Me in Paradise), as the women's voices moved slowly through a chorale Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin In Gottes Willen (With peace and joy I depart in God's will) in the background...

Then... a huge flood of visitors flowed in, an elementary school class with chaperones. My heart sank, but needn't have. The children were gestured to sit on the floor and they did, rapt. I imagined their wonder, walking in off the bright busy street to find this earnest, sublime music. Maybe, years from now, some great classical musician would tell of having first encountered music here...

And then a siren tore by outside.

Somehow it didn't disrupt the moment, but completed it.

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