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DEVOTION: Choral Art

This devotion was shared by Tim Sheie, bass, before rehearsal this past Tuesday, September 24th.

Let’s talk about art for a minute, and it relates to choral art as well.  Artists will talk about two approaches to visual art, one is subtractive and one is additive.  (Many techniques are both, but let’s ignore that for a minute.)  The sculptor creating a clay or bronze bust of F.Melius Christensen basically starts with absolutely nothing and begins to add little bits of clay or wax until it is done ... or the painter begins with a blank canvas and adds color and more color until it’s time to stop adding. Conversely, subtractive art begins with some general mass and takes away little bits until it’s time to stop taking away.  The same bust of F. Melius done in Carrera marble began as a block of marble, which the artist judiciously removes a chip at a time until it looks like F. Melius.  The additive artist has the ability to fix and change and modify, the subtractive artist understands a different type of commitment to the craft—you cannot glue back marble taken away, I cannot backspace letters carved into walnut.  One is reminded of Salieri’s dismissal of Mozart, saying “too many notes.”

You are an additive artist, collaborating with other additive artists.  (You could then maybe argue that David or Craig Hella Johnson is then a subtractive artist.) The sculptor stops carving, and there still remains a half-carved object—but what we do does not even exist unless we are actually doing it—music doesn’t exist unless it it being performed. Those black smudges on paper are not music. In creating music, you add beauty to space and time, and someone witnesses it and can be transformed by it.

Some of you know I’ve been messing around with wood over the years, and I’m in the middle of a big project that got me thinking about all this.  I’ve got a three-part work going up that is loosely organized in a ‘Father—Son—Spirit” layout.  The creator panel has sun/moon/stars, spinning worlds of creation. The Son panel uses the central image of the cross set on a diagonal, and the Spirit panel uses the image of flowing water, the water of life, the water of baptism. The whole design should make sense when it’s all up on the wall, but taken one part at a time, it’s like looking at a single puzzle piece.  As I stood with our associate pastor on the second floor overlooking the first panel, he expressed his confusion with it, not being able to figure out what it was representing.  I told him to be patient, because, “When your orientation to the Cross is correct, everything else makes sense.”   

For us, we live daily to keep our orientation to the Cross correct.   Our message of promise and hope found in the Cross of Christ is what we live as individuals and what we share as a choir.


Holy God, you alone are holy, you alone are God.    

The universe declares your praise beyond the stars, beneath the sea, within each cell, with every breath.

Generations bless your faithfulness, through the water, by night and day, across the wilderness, out of exile, into the future.

We give you thanks for your dear Son, at the heart the human lifenear to those who suffer, beside each sinner, among the poor, with us now.

Blessing, praise and thanks to you holy God, through Christ Jesus, by your Spirit, in your Church, without end.