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December 11, 2006
Vol. VI, No. 13

"Authority Submissiveness Syndrome"
There were two incidents last week that stuck out in my mind but neither was sufficient to become a Rampage on its own. I couldn't combine them because they were unrelated. Or were they?

The first incident was a message that popped up on one of the discussion lists I frequent. The writer of the message was inquiring about tempos for pieces in Bach's Orgelbüchlein. If you've ever looked at the various suggested tempos for each piece, you know that they vary quite a bit. I don't often participate on these lists but I found myself upset by this person's plight and wrote the following response:

"Life would be so much easier if there were easy answers and Bach's music is no exception. Or is it?"

"The reason there is such a disparity of tempos concerning Bach's music is because it is perhaps the purest music ever written and, because of that, works at almost any tempo. The key is whether the performer can sell the tempo."

"You won't find this fact in any musicological paper because that would be giving away the keys to the kingdom. But the fact is that there is no esoteric knowledge that is obtained by passing through the rites of initiation. Bach's music is for everyone. Anyone can play it and interpret it and if they believe in what they are doing, it will work. Oops, did I give away the secrets of the Guild? Well, so be it. The world will be a better place because of it. No one holds a monopoly on how Bach should be performed."

"If you need something more concrete, I picked up a rule of thumb somewhere that baroque music should be played as fast as you feel comfortable playing the sixteenth notes in the piece. However, the bottom line is, go with your gut. That's a lot of responsibility, and not everyone wants it but the fact is that it's there for the taking. You are hereby empowered. Enjoy!"

A friend informed me of the second incident. An organist friend of his had been fired recently by a church after 30 years of service. The organist's termination was a condition of the church receiving a very large sum of money for the purpose of installing a new pipe organ.

That's right. You read that correctly. The patron wanted the organist out. Were the organist's skills in question? Were there personality conflicts between the organist and the congregation? No and no. The organist was simply a victim of power for power's sake. On the surface, the patron claimed the new organ needed a better quality organist to play it. In reality, the organist could not be found lacking in any way. The bottom line for the patron was, what good is money if I can't exert the power it conveys? I demand a new organist because I can.

Sound ridiculous? Read Machiavelli's "The Prince" when you have a chance. It's all about obtaining power and maintaining your hold on it once you have it.
It may have been written in the 1500s but don't dismiss it as too old to be relevant. Keep in mind that we live in a political climate where the main players are big fans of the book.

So I thought at first these two incidents were unrelated but it wasn't long before I found a connection: Authority. We organists have problems with authority. Perhaps it is because we are often bit players in the drama, supporting cast only, depending on the "stars" for our existence and success. They can makes us or break us. And of course stars rarely realize that, in reality, it is often their supporting cast that makes or breaks them.

At times we are unwilling victims of authority, as in the experience of the terminated organist, and other times we are willing participants in our own victimization, as when we defer to others the critical decisions of music-making. What's the "appropriate" tempo? What's the "correct" tempo? Play it any way you please! Play it slow, play it fast, play it loud, play it soft, stretch it in every imaginable direction until you find the sweet spot that makes sense to you. Don't take someone else's word for it. Know it in your heart, at the bottom of your soul. Be the authority.

As if on cue, an email popped up in my Inbox containing a review of the book "All Rise: Somebodies, Nobodies, and the Politics of Dignity."
While I might be a bit biased since the author is a former president of Oberlin College, I feel the book is much more important than the reviewer gives it credit for being. I found the review interesting in its discussion of bullying however at best, the reviewer may be too cynical to entertain the higher ideas of the book and at worst, may not have read most of it. Just my impression though I am still reading the book rereading the review periodically.

I'd like to teach the world to sing and also I'd like to have it read "All Rise."

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Updated Pages
Featured Links:
Added is Pipe Organ Goodies and Music Gifts, an online shop that has almost 1000 pipe organ-related goodies for sale. Calendars, things to drink from, things to wear, items to use or simply amuse; there will be something here for everyone.

Composition Free Exchange:
Added are brass parts by Ryan W. Frederick intended to accompany three hymns in the LBW.

PIPES Hall of Fame:
Added is Church of the Holy Apostles, New York, NY.

Sheet Music Store:
Updated to feature the Oxford University Press and Rollin Smith-edited Christmas collections from my last Rampage.

DON'T FORGET: Framed posters of the Master make a nice Christmas present for your organist or choir director. If you insist, there are 300,000 other posters and prints from which to choose.


Have a great week!

Dan Long

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