Open Frame

Volume 47, Issue 1

The quintet sits silently, off center of the pulpit, awaiting their cue from the conductor standing near the first pew. Baton lifted, she quickly makes eye contact with the five, launches the downbeat, and the first notes of Handel’s Water Music flow from freshly polished brass. The familiar notes start with measured rhythm, close, near to the group, but at the first crescendo rise quickly over the rows of listeners and quickly bounce from the barrel vaulted ceiling, toward the stained glass lit with candles, and sideways to rest on wool caps and coats askew in the pews. Each breath the trumpeter draws finds a space in the slide of the trombone, and the notes begin to layer over each other as they rise and fall together, in sync and not.

The shape of the music bends effortlessly to the frame of the score, bouncing or drifting, major or minor. The frame, while static, does not restrict the music; the structure allows for the push and pull, the swoop and dip of the A flat as it seeks to find its own moment of understanding. Going it alone, that note shudders in its solitariness; without the frame of a score it lacks sustaining direction. Within the embrace of the staff and time signature, each note draws its courage to soar or settle, to rise when called upon, or move low to rest fluidly, interpreting and reflecting.

My eyes drift along with each note, following them as they go from ceiling to window, some of them coming to rest on my fingers. As a musician, I can feel them coming towards me, the slow air currents of the church emboldened by the sounds. I think of myself as a person of faith, yet I rarely go to a Sunday service. Like the A flat, my solace is found more in the community of the frame. I am most comfortable in a frame that breathes, that allows for the tattered corners of my notes to have life. The structure seen and unseen is ingrained, an envelope that holds the past in its crease and the future in its opening. I may raise my eyes or lower my lids while seeking what it is that I do not yet comprehend, whether purpose or direction.

It is in the winter that I understand how my earliest memories of space and frame continue to provide sustenance even when I don’t realize it is sustenance I seek; the first candle light service, the first prayers, the first recitations and yes, the notes that bounce from ceiling to floor. Handel’s composition encapsulates this winter-feeling, the score that holds the darkest season offers a glimmering hint of rebirth as notes climb to the piece’s higher octaves. Because the frame exists, because the score exists, the freedom to grow, to learn, to reject, and to renew exists. Without the frame there is no starting place. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “Faith… is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.” Water Music, with its enduring melody from its coda repeating effortful passages to high trills and moments of lentamente, musically illustrates the enduring yet changing moods of faith.

The author is a writer based in Seattle, Washington.