CCG at St. Johns

This isn’t a review; it’s a reaction. I know better than to talk about my colleagues’ music. Most of it was very fine, some wasn’t.

First reaction: The Syndicate for the New Arts, the group that put on last night’s concert. Wow, just wow. Virtuosi, the lot of them. They did my work The Great Hunger, and never have I heard such a fierce, tight, balls-to-the-wall performance of it as Aram Mun, Henry Jenkins and Caitlin Mehrtens gave it. Yes, fierce… and these aren’t instruments you normally associate with that term. Unbelieveably fast and accurate, but well-thought-out and phrased too,  Of course, somebody had to slam a big wooden door right in the middle of it. Everything else on the program got the same careful treatment. Surprisingly large audience for a Sunday night.

Then there was the venue. St.John’s is supposedly the oldest standing religious building in NE Ohio, having been finished in 1838. Acoustically, it’s quite nice: tall enough for some bloom, small enough to not be echo-y. But it’s a wreck. I don’t know if they actually have services there anymore. It’s still owned by the diocese, they have a vicar (female of course), there are flags inside, and ’82 Hymnal and Book of Common Prayer, but there was nothing in any of the literature or signage suggesting that they actually did church there. And it’s sad. Every wall in the place is peeling and in need of paint. The 1928 Austin 2 manual organ is missing most of its key ivory. A square piano (original equipment?) sits forlorn in the corner. The cover was off the heating baseboards (the main heat produced a F drone and was fortunately turned off before the concert started). The stained glass behind the altar was missing a section. The cheeriest spot in the whole building was the bathroom! The place has had a history of “activism”, with Russell Means running the Cleveland American indian Center out of the basement in  the 70s, and the Metropolitan Community Church using the space when they could find no other. Now they have a yoga center attached.  So perhaps it’s a physical metaphor for the decline of ECUSA into spiritual irrelevance.

But this is sacred space. If it can’t be beautiful, it at least should not be ugly. Even as a concert space, it should not be ugly. It would be a simple and inexpensive thing to paint the inside. Somebody, in some ECUSA church in town, could organize a group of volunteers and have it done in a day or two. And there’d be white to balance the dreary dark pews that seen to be an Anglican dogma. But as-is, it felt like listening to a concert in Berlin in late 1945. “The acoustics aren’t so good since the roof was blown off, but at least the bombs aren’t coming down anymore. And we can listen to Mendelssohn again.”

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