“Diligent, but dull.”
That’s how one critic described my conducting after a performance of the Brahm’s Requiem early in my career, over 40 years ago. I was stunned and humbled, but his curt critique led me to a powerful epiphany.
Since I first taught myself to play an old piano that I discovered in my grandfather’s barn in Illinois, I was willing to devote hours to become technically proficient. Much later as a young conductor, I was always thoroughly prepared and knew every note in a piece of music in front of me. But I now realized that I had been afraid and closed off as an artist and as a human being. I was hiding behind my skill and professionalism. I had not been willing to openly share my true feelings about a piece of music.
I resolved to confront this lifelong fear. I told myself that the only way to express the full power of any music would be to allow myself to be moved emotionally and even spiritually. Only then would the members of a chorus connect with me and with the audience.
I’ve come to this conclusion: the sincere creation and sharing of art brings us to a place of honesty and truth. Sometimes it occurs in a glorious, piercing flash. But usually, it happens only after carefully crafted, difficult, diligent, inspired, and, hopefully, joyful hard work.
In over 20 years with Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, this vision has led us to focus on new and unusual performance practices and to take artistic risks. Inviting or even gently pulling people slightly out of their 21st century comfort zones is the first step in preparing them to experience music and the human voice at the deepest level.
Human beings are wired to connect with music that emerges passionately from the heart and soul of a composer, a singer, and a musician. The moment any listener feels that connection with a performer through music, they experience what it is to feel human and also the essence of their shared humanity. No matter what cultural differences may exist between them…real or imagined…the listener and the performer will feel and begin to understand what they share in common on a much deeper level.
And, in that moment, each listener may experience the sublime possibility of connection with all people everywhere. This sharing, this essential connection, may be the most important truth of all.
-Alan Harler, Artistic Director, Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia