WHY CHORAL MUSIC
Why choral music? Because it allows also this communion of people that dignifies their relationship to one another, as well as to what mankind might be. The wonderful thing about choral music is that, since we’re each given a voice, and it’s native to us, we can also meet the great creative minds of the past, not only together, but we meet them not on the plane of finger exercises. We don’t have to practice for 20 years. Anybody who can hold a scale and wants to can get into a choral society can sing the greatest music from day one, the greatest music that Bach ever wrote. He doesn’t have to go through 20 years of singing exercises. He can begin with the top of the line.
THE COMPOSER AND THE GUY DOWN THE ROAD
I am in the business of trying to bring what I love in music to living people. One of my tenets would be that the closer you come to what the Composer had in his mind when he wrote it, the more you’re liable to touch the guy down the road.
GREAT MUSIC CAN TOUCH ANYONE
A woman came up following a concert of the Mozart Requiem, and she said “Mr. Shaw.” She waited around for the autograph seekers and stuff to go away, and she said, “I never heard any Mozart before and I don’t speak no Latin but I had a child who died last winter. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve heard in my life.” This touches you! So I think that people who are prepared, if they have experienced ANY excellence at all, they have the capacity for experiencing this music.
The reason the men [great composers] last, the reason their product lasts is because it reaches. It goes farther. And what passes for popular music is so sort of shoddy in its importance that the people have to change it every three to four weeks, they have to get a new tune.
Popular music helps you to forget and great music helps you to remember.
The other thing I found very early was you couldn’t swear and get the Crucifixus done right.
THE MUSIC SPEAKS
I think my principle tools now are leading rather than chastising, inspiring rather than dispiriting. I am also grateful for the fact that I don’t have to feel that I am false or phony about it. The music IS worth more than I am. I don’t use inspiration as a tool. I think I am inspired, too. I hope it’s the music speaking through me.
LIVING WITHIN THE MINUTE
I really live within the minute and neither prospect nor retrospect.
PLAYING NEW MUSIC
The thing that I’m convinced about is that if you don’t play your own century’s music, nobody’s going to get a chance to hear it - and to decide about it.
THE EARLY DAYS
I remember Heifetz, the Principal Cellist of the NBC Symphony, coming up after my first rehearsal when I thought I’d done a terrible job. He patted me on the shoulder and said, “You won’t get it, son, but it’s nice to see somebody try”.
IGNORANCE CAN WORK FOR YOU
l didn’t pull any ranks other than ignorance; which is a good rank if you can use it well.
COMPOSERS THAT ENDURE
It isn’t any accident that Beethoven lasts, and that Mozart lasts, and that Bach lasts.
WORKING WITH BAD ACOUSTICS
You could never do a great concert on a bad stage but you could do a good concert on a bad stage with getting used to it before you stepped out into your first sound. I also found, among other things, that if the stage is real bad, you don’t sing louder, you sing more quietly - rules of thumb that any natural carpenter would figure out before he sawed off all of his fingers.
LIVING IN WORK CLOTHES
I’ve lived always cheaply because that’s my nature. We didn’t have money as a family so it doesn’t bother me any. The clothes I wear - you can tell by my rehearsal clothes - I wear the same pair of blue pants and the same blue shirts, and I buy them by the dozen and you pay all of $9 or $10 for a pair of pants. I just live in work clothes.
BEETHOVEN AND THE JEANS CROWD
I love the fact that when you put on a Beethoven Ninth Symphony, the hall is full of blue jeans. I think that spirit still speaks.
It's the discipline of creativity and the discipline of the creativity of beauty and also the creativity of something that does not harm anyone else. I think these are essential to the artistic experience. As long as he's alive, a man is looking for a sort of function in his universe. Obviously religions are a response to this too.
Many people sustain the hope that, since they can't find a real function here, they hope there may be another life or two. Some of them call it Heaven and other people call it Reincarnation. If one feels that somehow creation is still in process, whether you call it God or whatever you call it, and feels himself a part of that creation, and it's almost impossible to escape the fact that life as we know it, Man is now the bloom of that creative process, and therefore has certain responsibilities to mankind's ultimate destiny. And that is not to blow off the bloom too soon and to find new ways for it to bloom.
CREATION IN THE ARTS
The strange thing about creation in the arts is that it’s an intellectual discipline and a creative act that is about the most wholesome thing that can happen in human life. And therefore it shouldn’t be used simply as a means of personal advancement, either monetarily or egotistically. In my time, I think, the institutions of polity and religion have so vitiated their function that only this creative thing is left, and this is where nobility lies. That’s why I think that the arts aren’t anything but essential and necessary. As I tell - it’s been said to choirs time after time, you’ll never have it any better than this. You can’t step into a voting booth without compromising yourself one way or another. And you’re stepping into a rehearsal, and you can only have the opportunity to really ennoble yourself in company with your fellow person, fellow man.
LACK OF SKILLS
I read a score with difficulty. I have to solfege every note. And I don’t have keyboard skills, and so it’s a real chore to learn a new, major work. I think that if I’d had the skills that those men had in my generation, Lukas Foss and Mr. Bernstein, I’d obviously been better prepared to handle some of these things, some of these situations that picked me up by my ears, and said, Boy, now can you swim here?
PLAYING CATCH UP
I never sought music in the first place. So every place I went was vastly beyond me. And I’ve been playing 75 years of catch up.
One can educate orchestras and one can educate choruses, but ultimately, one should not conduct them. I mean, ultimately you educate them to do the performance within themselves. I think that’s the important element of music.
If one is going to evaluate the artistic level of any civilization, I think one has to also take in to account, and maybe even more importantly, the degrees of culture involvement of the middle class and the upper middle class of intellectual life. That which happens in the churches and the schools, the universities, and the colleges is as important as what happened on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera Company. It may be more important.
I guess it's because I feel so dumb, partly because I began without, as we said, without any college education towards, or any infant education towards music, or up through college and I've just spent all my life catching up, so if one knocks out the first twenty-five years of my life, I'm only 51 years old, and I really didn't begin, I don’t think I began being responsible, musically, until 15 or 20 years ago, so I’m barely out of my teens.
THE HUMAN BACH
The thing that essentially qualifies Bach’s music is that though it’s technically masterful and such, it maintains a humanity that is as natural as the Negro spiritual. It’s extraordinarily human music.
The thing that makes his [Bach’s] music last is not its intellectualization but its consummate humanity and the fact that it is simple human emotion in extraordinary persistence and renaissance. Every time it renews itself, it’s a resurrection. I’m not talking about a liturgical resurrection or anything like that. It’s a triumph of human intellect and good will over commerciality, over control - human control over other humans, a triumph of peace over war, mind over matter. It’s just an incredible human event.
BEETHOVEN AND BACH
A Beethoven Symphony is almost a convulsive social cataclysm, in a way. The people who come to a special Beethoven Festival are liable to wear blue jeans, which is great, and leather coats, and so on. It’s just fabulous and it means a great deal to me. But they come as a society somehow. It’s been my experience - and not just my personal experience - I’m trying to weigh the audience response, that almost everybody who comes to a concert of Bach comes uniquely alone.
LISTENING TO RECORDINGS
I know that, working as much as I personally do with music, it’s almost impossible to stand any music in the house other than music I am studying. I play a lot of recordings after I’ve done my analysis and my editing of the orchestra materials, just to see if I get back to find out what Toscanini or Furtwӓngler did at this particular problem some years ago. So recordings get played. They just never get played as just sort of music in the home. But one can tolerate Handel and one can use Bach instrumental music. I find that if the Passions are on, then I find I have to sit down and not tend to anything else.
I asked George Szell, "Why’d you bring me here? I obviously have too much to learn to be in this position, to have 80 concerts with the Cleveland Orchestra." And he says, "Because you make a choir, you treat a choir like I treat an orchestra, and I think we go after the same things." So that was good news! At least I figured I could go home and sleep again a couple of nights before I got thrown out of town!
The point is that Art is not an importable commodity. It is not something that can be purchased. If the critics of Art, of musical performance, which is already sort of a contradiction in term, if they become the sort of dictators of what is good or bad rather than the musicians themselves, or rather than the singers themselves, rather than the doers themselves. And if we become a society of critics and consumers rather than of doers, then the Arts are completely betrayed and completely dead.
GOD AND RIGHT NOTES
I should also say it took me a little while to find out that while God loves a pure heart, he loves right notes more. No amount of emotional involvement would be a substitute for singing the right note at the right time at the right dynamic level.
BEETHOVEN VS. BACH
The difference between the Beethoven Missa Solemnis which I think is of staggering, staggering creativity, and the Bach Mass, for me, is Bach’s absolute security and certainty and Beethoven’s striving.
I felt, because I was taken with text through my collegiate studies of English Literature and of Philosophy and Religion, text seemed to me enormously important. The jubilation of a Magnificat, “my soul magnifies the Lord”, led me into excesses of vocalism and sort of shouting, exuberant sounds. And it took me a long while, at least 3 to 4 years, before I could really understand that the Bach exuberance was not the exuberance of decibels but was an exuberance of animation and a complexity of utterance, one line against the other, so that there was never less than a duet and there were frequently trios, quartets, quintets, and sextets and octets of lively materials which must be so ordered and subtly organized that one could hear into the sound.
BACH B MINOR MASS
The Passions obviously, are full of, I don’t want to say celebrate it, but“explore this” over and over again in the tragedy of this great hero. But particularly the soprano arias just break your heart. time after time. You almost can’t listen to them without weeping. if they’re sung as greatly as they’re written. They just kill ya.
So there is this extraordinary side to Bach simply because he’s human, I think. At the same time his music is also the dance, the dance of life. A thing like the Resurrection in the B-minor Mass, again has a half-dozen words of text. There’s a bass recitative in the middle of it that throws a few more words in, but the choir doesn’t sing much more than ‘et resurrecit” and another half dozen words, and the piece is one of the longest pieces in the Mass. Beethoven does the ‘Et Resurrecit” in a matter of 5 or 6 seconds, maybe 7 or 8, 7 or 8 seconds, and it’s all over. It’s a shout by the tenors and then everybody says ‘whoop-ti-do” and that’s it. It’s a sort of instant resurrection. This may be a little bit vulgar but I always think of St. Vincent Millay’s in the Renascence, “I lie here and plot the agony of resurrection”. But Bach’s is a jubilant resurrection but it’s a symphonia. It’s a whole little symphony. And it just is one glorious dance from the beginning to the end. Mankind is not pulling himself up sadly out of his graves, but he’s just up there just dancing as fast and as happily as he can. And little cherubs and seraphim and cherubim are whirling around the sky in their motor scooters and just having a heck of a time! Just a fabulous, fabulous thing.