A few years ago I had the very great pleasure to be present at a performance of Mahler’s 5th Symphony at the Sage, Gateshead. I came somewhat late to an appreciation of classical music and in my 50s I have enjoyed discovering something of the rich musical heritage of the great classical composers. In this digital age the music, either on disc or on line, is more readily available and more affordable than ever before. But nothing beats the experience of watching and listening to an orchestra perform a great Symphony live.
Playing in a professional orchestra is one of the great artistic disciplines. A high level of technical ability is only the first requirement. You don’t get anywhere near an orchestra position unless you are a highly accomplished musician. You also have to be able to take instruction, the conductor will not be overly impressed by your virtuosic abilities if your timing is out of sync with the rest of the orchestra. And you also have to be a team player, blending in, rather than standing out.
Some instruments are more visible and numerous than others, such as violins. But spare a thought for the Piccolo player. Often the Piccolo player has to sit passively following the music waiting for the opportunity to play a couple of bars. Only rarely do they get the chance to shine, for example in Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no 4.
We have once again engaged with the great Easter story of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. As I have been reflecting on this I was reminded of a major Symphony being performed by a great orchestra. The Passion narrative dominates the Gospels, it has shades and colours, there are lighter moments such as the triumphal entry, quieter passages such as the Garden of Gethsemane, the depth and darkness of the cross and the crescendo of the Resurrection. There is an ‘orchestra’ of players and alongside Jesus at the centre of everything that happens, there are many ‘Piccolo’ players who play minor parts. It is a thing of beauty.
We, too, are called to perform our own work of faith, to exercise our gifts to the very best of our ability, to follow the conductor’s lead and to play in harmony with those around us. There are many ways to view a life, thinking of it as the performance of a great work is for me a valid and inspirational one. A great Symphony is not complete without the few notes that the Piccolo provides, but the Symphony is not great if those few notes are not played well and in time.
Grace and Peace