Sunday, November 22, 2009

22 November: St. Cecilia's Day

For most of us in America, November 22 is the anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and that's it, and that's understandable. It was an overwhelming event. It was one of those proverbial moments at which everyone of a certain age can remember exactly where he or she was when the news arrived. It's true even for those of us who, like me, were only small children at the time.

However, I also have another November 22 memory from my—I was going to say, "mature," but as I have yet to reach that state in either the literal or the figurative sense, let me correct that to—"college" years. My music teacher had put me in touch with some other adult students of his—young professionals, all more than half a generation older than I was—who were interested in forming a string quartet of like-minded but not excessively accomplished amateurs. One of them, a generous businessman, with a spectacular antique violin, an elegant house, and a refined aesthetic sense, decided to revive the Baroque tradition of the Saint Cecilia's Day festival.

Because she was known, thanks to a rather slim strand of legend (but wherein does tradition otherwise consist?) as the patron saint of music, it became the custom in England to celebrate her saint's day—November 22—with concerts and other festivities. The two pieces written for the occasion by Purcell

and that by Händel

are now well known. Our local festivities were restricted to a small circle, but we valued it all the more. Our host provided the food and drink. His only requirement was that all the guests perform a work of music in the manner of their choosing, as best they could—and "leave their diffidence at home." All were welcome, amateur and professional alike, but no one could judge, and no one could apologize. It was a fine model of open-minded and egalitarian interaction, and I often have occasion to remember it in other contexts.

1 comment:

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