Thursday June 24, 2021
Sofie Hartwick is an anomaly – a gifted pianist who doesn’t read music, doesn’t know what she’s going to play before she starts, and never repeats herself.
And plays beautiful music just the same.
Sofie – I’m using her first name because I think of her as part of my church family – is somewhere on the autism spectrum. Where, doesn’t matter. Typically, she plays a totally spontaneous piece for about three minutes at the conclusion of our church’s sermon/reflection/homily.
Something in the minister’s words sets up a musical thought pattern for her. Perhaps it defines the tempo she’ll play at, or the key she’ll play in. And then she starts playing.
And the rest of us listen in awe.
Recently, Sofie recorded a CD of ten pieces. Her recording engineer and producer, Mike Schwartzentruber, said this:
“Sofie does not rehearse her pieces or memorize them so that she can repeat them in later performances. These are true improvisations – transient, occasionally imperfect, yet oh so beautiful, like so many things in nature.”
It’s an apt analogy. Every living thing is unique. Trees do not grow with pre-determined branches. Kittens do not replicate their parents. Even coronaviruses mutate into new variants.
A rehearsed performance is an oddity in nature. Only humans rely on memorized performances.
Mike goes on: “When she sits down at the keyboard, she says, the music – at times tentative, meditative, lyrical, dramatic – wells up within her…”
An honoured tradition
Sofie’s improvisations make me think of the biblical prophets. And perhaps of other prophets, down through the ages.
They didn’t have a script to follow. They spoke from the heart, to a unique situation and context. Commonly, they declared, “Thus saith the Lord…” acknowledging that the words welled up from within them, almost unbidden.
Much like the way that God, or something, inspires the music in Sofie’s fingers. She doesn’t know where it comes from; it just comes.
And the prophets each responded in different ways.
Isaiah created metaphors about deserts and fountains, about shepherds and suffering servants, that inspired the music of Handel some 25 centuries later.
Jeremiah felt impelled to go into the markets and act out silly skits with figs and pottery, trusting that someone would get the point.
Ezekiel had visions of flaming chariots and valleys full of dry bones.
Hosea took a hooker as his wife, knowing his marriage would fail, just like Israel’s marriage to God.
Amos denounced hypocritical feasts and fasts.
None of those were carefully scripted performances. None of them went through extended rehearsals to iron out all the details. They just heard something that they identified as the voice of God throbbing inside them. And they had to pass it on.
Just like Sofie.
I don’t know what Sofie’s message is. Except, perhaps, that she herself is a message. To me, to all of us. To listen to that still small voice somewhere deep inside, and to find our own vehicle for passing it on to others.
If, perchance, you would like to sample Sofie’s playing, you can listen to 30 seconds of each piece at https://www.winfieldunitedchurch.ca/journeys-cd-sofie-hartwick. Or Google “Journeys – Sofie Hartwick.” If you then want to download the full CD for $15.00, there’s a a link at the top of that page. No shipping charges for downloads!
Copyright © 2021 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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Last week’s musing on what it means to be a father evoked several of your reflections too.
“OK, now you have me reviewing 52 years of fatherhood to see how I measure up,” wrote Cliff Boldt.
Yawar Beig thought of a different kind of fathering: “Beautiful reflections on being a father, Jim. I have no children. I am the last of my line and that feels very dignified. However, I have many students and many ‘demented’ (I call mentees that. It describes anyone who wants to me mentored by me), so I ‘father,’ willy-nilly.”
Tom Watson reflected on being a father, “especially during a critical period of six years. I went to university at the age of 36 to study for ministry in the United Church—three years in Arts, three years in Theology. Our daughters, when I began that journey, were 12, 10, 8 and 4. So for the next six years, I both went to school full-time and worked full-time on a three-point pastoral charge. Except for our summer vacation time, Janice was both mother and father, and she more than made up for the too often absent father.”
Bob Rollwagen: “I watched my father, as all kids do. He was not my best friend, just my dad. He cut the grass every Thursday evening during the summer, he rounded the corner at the foot of our street every night at 5:20, he walked to work. He reviewed every essay I ever wrote in school until I was forced to trust my own judgement at university. He was a handy woodworker around the house, and I was his assistant from the time I could walk until I got married.
“Strangely, I never asked him once about what do dads do, what should I do to be a good dad. A few days before he died, he visited us at our summer cottage. He sat on the deck watching my three girls and me having an afternoon of fun and water sports. That evening, sitting on the deck, sharing a quiet pre-dinner drink, I could see a level of comfort, joy and pride in his experience of the day. I think he saw the dad he hoped for and had been himself. My three siblings have similar recollections.”
Don Gunning knew my own father well: “I second all of your warm recollections of your Dad's fathering qualities. Beyond the family boundaries as well. He did indeed set a high standard for us all.
“You clearly reflect everything he lived by in this regard. -- even in the face of daunting challenges. He would be proud of you.”
Steve Roney has a view of parental roles that I don’t share, but that I’m sure many do: “I think you are wrong to think that ‘consistent’ is not high praise for a father. That is exactly the father’s job. ‘Level-headed’ and ‘even-tempered’ are almost as good. The mother is free to fuss over and pamper a child. The father must not. The father’s job is to teach morals and good judgement. Including not thinking too much of yourself.
“Put another way, the mother looks after the child’s physical and animal needs. The father looks after the child’s spiritual needs. This is why we conceive of God as Father, not as mother, and of nature as Mother, not as father.”
Psalm 130, the suggested psalm for this coming Sunday, feels like a paean of self-pity, of “poor me.” So I’m going with the alternate, Psalm 30. I imagine it voiced by anyone whose skin colour or gender makes them feel less than equal.
1 My God, O my God, what a gift you have given me!
2 I thought I was born a loser;
you have given me self-esteem.
3 I used to let others speak for me;
I let others think for me.
I felt I was nothing.
You have given me life.
4 I am not a faulty copy of anyone else, God.
I am me. Thank you.
5, 7 Once I thought God despised me.
But I have felt God's gentle hands lift me into the light.
8 I cried silently in the night, afraid to be heard.
I stifled my own suffering.
I thought I didn't matter.
9 I could have died -- but I was afraid no one would notice.
10 "Can anyone hear me?" I cried. "Does anyone care?"
11 And you heard me, God.
You turned my rainclouds into rainbows; you stirred spices into the watery soup of my life.
12 I am done with self-abasement.
I will delight in me and in you forever.
You can find paraphrases of most of the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary in my book Everyday Psalmsavailable from Wood Lake Publishing, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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ALVA WOOD’S ARCHIVE
I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge. (Although maybe if I charged a fee, more people would find the archive worth visiting.)