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September 14, 2009
Vol. IX, No. 14

"A Tour of Ideas"
A couple of weeks ago I did a very touristy thing and visited the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC.
It's off the beaten path but I highly recommend a visit if you're in the DC area. The Shrine is the largest Roman Catholic church in the US and North America, and is one of the ten largest churches in the world. It is huge and will take you a few hours to see and experience all of the sights and sounds. The inside is basically a large Cathedral but it is very light, colorful and chock-full of museum-quality art and mosaics. I didn't have unlimited time but I felt fortunate to hear one of the two main organs (both Moeller) being played. There is a third organ, a tracker, built by Schudi Organ in the Silbermann-style, in what is called the Crypt Church -- this is another complete church under the main church. Unfortunately it was shuttered and not being played at the time.

At the start of Mass, the organist played a Buxtehude piece. It sounded lovely even with the long reverb. The reason I say it like that is that there are some organists who would refrain from playing Bach, Buxtehude, et al, in a room with a long reverb. I've never agreed with this thinking because it elevates theory over practice. The idea is that the individual voices are lost in the mush of the acoustics and therefore the acoustics are not appropriate for the music. However, I've always felt that the point of the music was to fill the space with a glorious, sublime sound, and every composer gets there in his or her own way. I respect the importance of Bach's compositional techniques; I just don't believe they have to be exposed in an obvious way.

Speaking of Bach's compositional technique, a couple of people sent me the NPR story about the discovery of a 12-tone row in a Bach prelude, said row anticipating the technique Schoenberg made famous 200 years later. I'm not sure how significant the find is--the two composers may have hit upon similar ideas but they clearly had different outcomes in mind. You can listen hear:
Or read hear:

The NPR story jogged something in my memory about Schoenberg arranging some of Bach's pieces so I went on the hunt. I found two CDs in particular and I'm thinking about getting one or both of these:
It's very interesting to have the world's greatest music arranged for orchestra by such renowned composers. Not as interesting as hearing or playing the pieces on a good organ, but interesting nonetheless. Have a listen to the samples and see what you think.

Finally, I wanted to share an article I read in BusinessWeek by Warren Bennis entitled "Acting the Part of a Leader." I felt it did a good job of addressing that feeling we all get when we're in over our heads. You know, doubts about whether you're really qualified for the job, feeling like someone is going to come along and reveal your incompetence. But in reality, it's just the voice of insecurity talking and there's good news. As the article states, "But the feeling of not being up to the job, the belief that the role is too big, is something every leader has felt. It is evidence that the role is greater than the individual—and thus worth taking on."

Added is the Schudi organ, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, DC.

Have a great week!

Dan Long

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