Risk Rap

Rapping About a World at Risk

Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis

A few years ago I caught Jimmy Cliff at BB Kings. What a party. He was terrific as he went through his expected repertoire of liberation songs to a very Reggae beat. For his last tune Cliff pulled out this giant bass drum the likes of which I have never seen. As he got into the tune the drum strike would send a soul penetrating sound wave reverberating into a frenetic audience bopping in unison. The vibe tickled as it pierced the body and continued to resonate after the sound wave passed through your heart. I imagine it was like getting zapped with a cosmic ray gun. The sound wave united artist with audience bringing them together into a unified vibe similar to the collective experience of the Holy Spirit that brings believers into a shared spiritual communion.

The recent performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis (Solemn Mass) by The New York Philharmonic Orchestra at NJPAC was a similar experience only multiplied by a factor of 10. The Orchestra led by Alan Gilbert fronted a 80 person choir and four vocalists that sang the libretto. Immediately, one is struck by the genius of Beethoven to score a composition of such massive dimensions and ensembic scale in service to the dramatic sweep of a divinely inspired vision. One is also left to wonder how a conductor can order a unified musical presentation by such a massive assemblage of singers and musicians? Mr. Gilbert acquitted himself very well and delivered a musical experience the likes of which I have never encountered most certainly in a live setting. This type of music is not listened to it is more of a full body experience.

The choir and orchestra engaged a dynamic dialectical interplay throughout the 75 minute piece with the choir often getting the upper hand. The vocal proclamations ascended with declarative force while the orchestra evoked a counterpoint of reasoned consistency that absorbed and controlled the power of the choir. The interplay of the piece suggested to me an image of an absorbent God that reigns in a celestial habitat. The multitudinous evocations, prayers and petitions from humanity are folded into the massive divinity that challenges and defies a human comprehension. The brute scale of the presentation’s momentum and the avowed certainty of the pieces direction remained unquestioned suggesting a cosmological predestination at work absorbing any loose ends of free will by performers or the comprehension of the audience.

Beethoven wrote the Missa Solemnis in 1814. It was a time of great upheaval and political uncertainty throughout Europe. The rise of nation states were eroding the political and institutional power structures of the aristocracy and a theocratic ideology that held it in place. The Missa Solemnis was commissioned by Arch Duke Rudolph who was appointed Cardinal and Archbishop of Olmutz. The piece was to be played at a solemn mass to commemorate the occasion. Though billed as a solemn mass, solemnity is not an adjective I would use to describe the piece. Beethoven assaults us with an overpowering forced conversion experience.

A Beethoven contemporary Prussian General Karl Von Clausewitzt stated, “pursue one great decisive aim with force and determination.”Missa Solemnis seemed to take the great generals advise to heart. The power and scale of the piece, its careful orchestration, and the continual exchange of the orchestra and choir also seems to suggest another Beethoven contemporary, the master dialectician Georg Hegel, may have been an influence in the Missa Solemnis. I raise this observation because the pieces structure suggests that the composer utilized Hegel’s dialectic method to arrange a conceived cosmology. The piece earnestly sought a divine experience but failed to transcend the bounds of an inspired institutional theology jealously guarding its eroding political power and ebbing sovereignty by co-opting the denying a transcendent experience to the audience. In my mind, the dialectic of the Missa Solemnis, never synthesized into a satisfying higher apotheosis. The piece seemed to continually fold back into itself. It lacked a needed reform of subtlety, reflection and space for a personal ubiquitous transcendence of the listener. It seemed to exclusively rely on the quality of the absolute force of its statement.

The Missa Solemnis scale and force of proclamation condemns the audience to a fixed position in a staid universe. It reinforces the quiet solemnity demanded of an inert audience required by the art form. I may have yearned for some Pentecostal action from the likes of Charles Mingus’s Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting only to be handed some very white bread Episcopalian homily affirming the fixed hierarchical cosmology. Absent of a voice of protestant reform and no ubiquitous inflection points, that allowed for the soul to escape the earthly barrage of the musical assault. All becomes controlled and incorporated into a catholic exegesis. Yes there was passion, tragedy, expectation and hope but save a small interlude of a bubbling choral evocation the transcendent moments always get dragged back to earth by an authoritarian dogma intent on maintaining the earthly order of things, through ruthless power, stringent conformity and submission to a mysterious all powerful opaque hierarchy. I know that this conflicts with Beethoven’s democratic sympathies beautifully articulated in his Ninth Symphony, but the two pieces dramatically diverge and one lies prostrate before the kingdom of heaven while the other celebrates the secular promise of humanism. I liken Missa Solemnis to Dmitri Shostakovitch’s Songs of the Forest. Drowning itself in the mass conformity of Soviet Social Realism the human voice is heard and articulated as a singular chorus whose greater aspirations are ultimately subsumed by the “Great Gardener” Joseph Stalin.

In the age of The Avatar, the majestic architecture of grand cathedrals, the power of mass choirs and the aesthetic elation of classical art forms has lost its awe inspiring impact. The grandness of the Missa Solemnis is indeed awe inspiring and beautiful to behold; but in the age of technology the mass availability of individuated 3D multidimensional events eclipses universal catholic corporatism negating the individual by channeling and controlling a personal connection to a transcendent experience.  Jesus Christ was not about palaces, power structures or propping up potentates. The ministry of Jesus Christ was about real people with real problems solved with abiding love that encouraged thoughtful engagement. It is the only way that mortals can transcend earthly trials and touch the divine. There is no coercion or sacred cows to protect only an abiding practice of unconditional transcendent love.

Yet for me an irony of the Missa Solemnis remains. I came away from the performance unable to remember a single melody or consistent theme from the score. Beethoven never repeats the theme throughout the extended work. We are enraptured into the immediacy of the experience like Moses’s encounter with God in the form of the Burning Bush on Mount Sinai. Like God the Missa Solemnis is what it purports to be. “I am that I am.” In this respect Missa Solemnis succeeds as a call to an existential engagement of a divinity that passes all understanding.  Reggae may synchronize the human heart beat to The Beneficent Ones finger taps; while the Missa Solemnis envelops the soul in a cascade of sound capturing the communicant with an overpowering force that leaves little doubt of the providence of a divine sovereign.

As a simple truth, Reggae’s beating drum may be a bit more prophetic and democratic. Jimmy Cliff  confronted me with an undeniable truth of his resonating drum. Beethoven assaulted me with an overpowering forced conversion experience. If religion is about informing our conscience and heart to conquer free will by liberating it from the earthly tyranny of the flesh you must be allowed to dance to the beat of many different drummers. That is what liberation is all about. Perhaps dancing to the drum of a Shamanic Rhasta Man is closer to my idea of a Missa Solemnis.

You Tube Music Video: Beethoven Missa Solemnis (D-Dur, Opus 123) Kyrie

Risk; culture, institutional

June 30, 2010 Posted by | Christianity, culture, democracy, music, politics, psychology, religion | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Solstice Solace

Today marks the winter solstice.   It is the longest night of the year.  Often we believe that the darkness and trials that have occupied our lives will never end.  We think them to be permanent fixtures that have taken up residence in our lives.  Its easy to forget about the light.

The Torah recounts the stories of Moses leading his people through the barren desert.  Time after time the ancient ones were challenged with hardship.  They would cry out their complaint bemoaning their circumstance.   Some wished to return to the bondage of slavery rather then to continue to suffer the privation born from freedom.

I believe that faith helps empower us to perceive the infinite wisdom of God’s compassion continuously at work in our lives.  An active willingness to receive the grace of light is a necessary precondition to lift the vale of darkness.  Our ability to discern and a willingness to take action will lead to deliverance from misfortune and privation only if we are open to receive the gift of grace. Understand that the light emanates from many unexpected sources and may light paths to destinations and places that are unfamiliar to us.  Trusting that the light will reemerge in our lives will lead to an enlightened state of acceptance and a deep sense of profound gratitude.

Beware of darkness beloved.  Trust in the light.

Peace be with you on this winter night.

You Tube Music Video: George Harrison,  Beware of Darkness

Risk: complacency, reticence, cynicism, surrender to hopelessness, capitulation

December 21, 2009 Posted by | Bible, faith, holiday, psychology, seasons | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Aztec Two Step

Frida Kahlo

President Obama has rescinded the Mexico City policy which seeks to block funding to foreign family planning organizations that also provide abortions. The Mexico City policy was first signed into law during the Reagan administration. It was rescinded by Clinton, reenacted under George W. Bush and will now be rescinded by Obama.

Pro Choice supporters hail the move, while the Right to Life proponents are dismayed about Obama’s decision to continue this Democratic party legacy. Protesters voiced their concern during the The March for Life demonstration in Washington DC. The protest is an annual event that is usually held on the anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

The fight to maintain legalized abortions, the right to choose one’s reproductive rights and the Right to Life movement continue a struggle where opportunities to find common ground and compromise seems forever elusive.

You Tube Video: Mariachi, Viva Obama 2008

Risk: civil rights, respect for life

January 23, 2009 Posted by | art, Civil Rights, democrats, folk, Obama, politics, religion | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

For Where Your Treasure Is

The Death of Marat
Atheism is aristocratic; the idea of a great Being that watches over
oppressed innocence and punishes triumphant crime is altogether popular.

History has is own way of keeping score. The celestial ledgers record every human transaction and movement. The scales swing ever slowly as it constantly seeks a perfect balance of Yin and Yang. Eventually history will find a way to assure that payments are made on any outstanding balances. All overdue accounts will be assiduously credited or debited in exact amounts for proportion due in good time. Poetically the new cosmological balance is restored with a settlement that is more often ironic then just.

So it is with Rene-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet’s suicide. To date one of the more dramatic consequences of Bernard Madoff’s massive swindle. Mr. Villehuchet apparently lost $1 bn in the fraud perpetrated by the wealth manager from hell. It is understood that a good portion of that tidy sum was comprised of clients assets entrusted to Mr. Villehuchet due to his astute investment acumen and discernment abilities. It is also believed that the massive loss also comprised the bulk of his family’s personal assets as well. Apparently the aristocratic estate of Mr. Villehuchet’s family now stands in ruin. It would seem that the goal of the French Revolution’s street rabble to fully disenfranchise the aristocracy and separate them from their power and privilege with the razor edge of a guillotine was finally realized 230 years later by a New York based hedge fund manager. Let it be noted that Robespierre was a friend of the bourgeoisie so perhaps he finds some tacit comfort from his long occupied grave that Madoff one of his fellow sans-culottes finished the work that the Jacobin’s failed to do.

The French Revolution was one of the signature events of history. It announced the unfettering of the political power of the bourgeoisie made possible by the rise of capitalism. A scant two centuries ago the radical capitalists used the guillotine to enforce a Reign of Terror to supplant the rule of the Aristocracy and establish their reign of liberty to make money.

Capitalism’s history during the past 200 plus years has firmly established the virtuous solemnity of money making. It has created a pantheon of incipient transactional values based on situational ethics and moral relativism. Money and its power has alone become the object of veneration. Much like the Golden Calf that Moses’s people erected, western societies are consumed with the passion of worshiping monetary wealth and all the power and position it confers on the one to whom it belongs. More accurately we should say to whom the objects of wealth own.

It is in this light that we find Mr. Villehuchet’s suicide yet another signature event of our time. Mr. Villehuchet’s life had no purpose outside of his wealth and objects. Very sad. If Mr. Villehuchet killed himself because he lost face with his client’s due to his poor choice of entrusting Mr. Madoff with his client’s assets that’s even sadder. If Mr. Villehuchet killed himself because he was complicit in the fraud scheme that’s the saddest reason of all. But whatever motivated the Viscount of Discount to end his life all point to his warped value system so common and rampant within the banal culture of the old aristocracy and the nouveau riche. How poverty stricken are those whose primary concern is the love of money. Pity them because they are poor in spirit.

Yes Mr. Villehuchet’s self induced passing may signal an urgency to reexamine the values of capitalism. We must begin to invest in values that will produce consistent sustainable returns.

Rest in peace Mr. Villehuchet. If there is an afterlife I’m sure that you and Robespierre will have much to discuss.

You Tube Video: Skeeter Davis: The End of the World

Risk; values, investments

December 27, 2008 Posted by | culture, hedge funds, Madoff | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Moses the Divine Risk Manager

Moses was anointed a divine risk manager by “E”. He received instruction and guidance from the One Who Cannot Be Named.

Armed with this knowledge and insight Moses looked upon the condition of his people and took action to free them from the bondage of enslavement and oppression. Time after time he went before the CEO of Egypt, (The Pharaoh) to ask him to conform to God’s will and to warn him that if he failed to do the right thing he will risk God’s wrath.

The Passover is a recounting of a mitigation strategy that worked. The Passover comes from Moses instruction to the Jews to paint lambs blood over their homes doorjambs so that they might be spared the cost of God’s retribution. Those who followed Moses instruction suffered no consequence. Those who did not heed the warning by failing to perform this action suffered the loss of the households first born son “and there was a great cry throughout the whole land of Egypt, such as there has never been, nor ever will be again.”

As is usually the case, those who fail to take action to mitigate risk suffer consequences. Those who take protective action improve their odds that they will not suffer negative consequence of a risk event due to the result of the steps they took. They also enhance their possibility to be blessed with knowing and experiencing peace and the prayerful expectation of deliverance.  When anxiety, problems, or worries threaten to overwhelm me I take a minute to slow my mind and try to re-center myself by evoking an effective risk management tool with this simple prayer.

“God grant me the serenity

to accept the things I cannot change,

courage to change the things I can,

and wisdom to know the difference.”

For me, the Serenity Prayer is like painting lambs blood on the doorjambs of my mind. It remains my fervent hope that difficulties passover your house. But when troubles do visit may you find the strength, courage and fortitude to survive and grow from the challenges and travails of life.

We wish everyone a meaningful and blessed Passover.

Peace as in the word Shalom.

Peace as in a greeting of Salaam Alaikum.

May a Peace that passes all understanding be with you always.

May a Peace that recognizes the joined hands of Namaste be seen in all hearts.

You Tube Music Video: Louis Armstrong, Go Down Moses

Risk: tolerance; warning signs

April 20, 2008 Posted by | Bible, faith, holiday, seasons, unions | , | Leave a comment