NLIKE many of my fellow bloggers, I am not presently engaged in directing a choir or providing music for liturgies week-to-week. Nor am I a pastor tasked with oversight of a music director. Necessarily, therefore, I bring less to this discussion, but I nevertheless have two brief thoughts to share. The first is more practical, while the second is more theoretical.
First, I did spend about a decade singing regularly in a choir. During that time, there were a number of pieces that I can remember being part of our “repertoire.” The director never referred to them that way, nor did any of the singers, but we all tacitly knew that these pieces were planted firmly in our bag of tricks, ready to be taken out whenever duty might call. Our singing of these works was polished, natural, and confident. The pieces in our repertoire shifted to some degree over the years, although a handful of pieces remained perennially on the list.
My recollection is that these pieces of repertory were a stabilizing factor for us as singers. They reminded us of our capabilities and afforded a needed sense of security. After embarking upon a challenging new piece at rehearsal, particularly if it didn’t go well, our director would often follow up with something sturdily in our repertoire. In doing so, he wordlessly reminded us that—despite apparent evidence to the contrary—we could actually sing.
Second, speaking a bit more theoretically, I think there is value in a balance of the new and the familiar, the repetitious and the adventuresome. Repetition and variety are opposites, yet they are also complementary. This is precisely what makes the genre of “theme and variations” delightful. It is what makes the ABA sonata form and the AABA song form so satisfying. Each involves an exposition, a development, and a recapitulation.
An excess of repetition results in mere sequence, the sort of monotonous product spit out by mechanistic assembly lines.
An excess of variety, on the other hand, is chaotic and “novel” in its pejorative sense.
The right dose of repetition conveys order. The right dose of variety creates interest. Together, they forge something beautiful.
This truth, I believe, can be fruitfully applied to parish music programs. Having a certain “repertoire”—a home-base to which you and your choir can return—is a good and stabilizing thing. So, too, there is value in introducing new music, taking a chance that stretches comfort zones and keeps skills sharp.
Beauty is found in the balance.