There were two concerts this past weekend, in the park across the street from the parish. The first one on Friday night was a big band concert with a live, local band. The band leader would introduce the song, the band would pick up their instruments and play. At the end of a particularly good solo the audience would clap. Though there may have been some talking, most of the attention of the audience was directed toward the stage. At the end of the piece, the audience would show their appreciation by clapping varying by how much they enjoyed it. A soloist might be reintroduced, “That was Skip Johnson on the saxophone,” and the audience would clap again.
Saturday night was a Gospel Celebration “concert.” Instead of a music director there was a DJ. Instead of human beings with instruments, there was a CD playing with (very loud) speakers. When the music played people talked over it. At the end nobody clapped, nobody received recognition, even the DJ had difficulty making herself heard over the talking, and then went on to the next song by a different musical organization on a different CD by a different recording label.
Even in art we are moving further and further away from the human experience. From self-serve gas stations, to automated phone “help lines”, to shopping on line, we need actual human contact less and less and less. And as we need other less, we appreciate them less when we do see them. (Ugh! I know that clerk is going to come over here and ask me if I need any help. I wish he would leave me alone!) Similarly, as we surround ourselves with virtual art, (posters, recordings, catalogue statuettes,) we appreciate true art less when we experience it. (Can’t this polka band play some Metallica? If it were a DJ he could just pop it in.)
The Church, when she is her best self, eschews this virtual experience of art. Recordings are not permitted at the Mass where the Godly and the truly human experience are to meet in their rawest forms. Recorded music (which, like prints of art and reproductions of statuary) has its place, but is a tragedy and a failing when used during those times in which we are to demonstrate our most human selves. It is like watching Mass on T.V. or texting your spouse a happy 50th anniversary. Epic failure.
What happens when all of our art is virtual – when we only have recorded music, posters, and plastic, mass produced sculptures? We lose touch with the human spark of inspiration, spontaneous innovation, individualization that spawns localization. Art becomes fashion and as bland as the culinary landscape has become – McDonalds from sea to shining sea. It becomes as silly as buying a souvenir designed, manufactured, and sent from China (and where the proceeds will go) to remember your trip to Ireland.
The tide can change. All it takes is people to do something. Support the arts. Participate in the arts. Go to a play. Introduce your children to arts and teach them how to experience it. When you see a street musician put some money in the case and if they are good, give them more. STOP and listen to them for a moment. When buying a souvenir, consider looking for something actually made in the place that you visited. (Yes, it will cost a little more.) When looking for something to go on that wall, consider getting something a human being has created – go to the local arts and crafts fair or artist’s shop. It is riskier and it is Okay to make a mistake but in the meantime you’ve supported the arts. If you can, hire a trio instead of a DJ. Donate (every little bit helps) to a local school of arts, or museum, or theater, or organ project, or ballet, orchestra, opera, or city arts program. Go listen to concert, even it is for free by the city. Get as close to the human experience as possible. Make possible the culture for art to flourish when and as you can. Do your part to keep us human.