Three people sent me the link above, knowing that it would be an exhibit of interest to me, and not knowing that I already had plans to visit New York and The Cloisters Museum this past Monday. “Moved to Tears at the Cloisters by a Ghostly Tapestry of Music” reads the New York Times’ intriguing headline. A Canadian artist has recorded individual voices singing a motet by Thomas Tallis, Spem in alium, which was written around 1570 for 40 individual parts, and then, following through on her conception of this as an art installation, placed forty speakers around a re-creation of the medieval Fuentidueña Chapel, pieces of which were brought from Spain and reconstructed at the Rockefeller-funded museum in upper (very upper) Manhattan in the 1930’s. I will admit that my initial moments in the museum/chapel, hearing waves of Tallis move around the space, caused stinging tears in my eyes too. Perhaps 20 or 30 people walked or sat, eyes closed, intently absorbing the sounds, small smiles on many faces. It was as beautiful to see that happening as hearing the music. I moved through the space and listened to the individual voices coming from the speakers, a child’s voice here and a baritone there, and I stood in the middle and listened to the sum of those voices. Perhaps, I hoped, people would come away with a deeper appreciation of the individual efforts that go into making a collective art like choral music.
In the half hour or so that I stayed though, a creeping doubt wiggled its way into my thinking. How much richer and more deeply felt would the experience be with real singers in a real chapel? Was this real?
Judging the reality of another person’s experience is probably wrong, isn’t it. The music and the museum are undoubtedly real. People heard music from the Renaissance, sung beautifully, in a space not dissimilar from what the composer might have had in mind. They were moved to places of tranquility far from Manhattan, perhaps taken to the very places of longing and hope that the composer had envisioned. But I couldn’t help but want those same people to go to a real church and hear live music, and take part in another kind of reality.