Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Difference of Opinion

I have a vivid memory of attending a concert by The Cardiff Polyphonic Choir, from Wales, while I was an undergrad at Samford. Choral music is very important in Welsh culture. Each town has at least one choir, and they often compete with each other. The Cardiff Polyphonic Choir was not made up of professional singers, but of regular townspeople who were spending their own vacation time (and their own money) to tour the United States with the choir.

I have long loved the English choral sound. Though the sound of this Welsh choir was a bit coarser than that of John Rutter’s Cambridge Singers, I was captivated by it. As each piece ended, I wanted desperately to savor every last vibration that remained in the concert hall. But there was a young woman sitting a few seats down on the row in front of me who, at the end of each piece, scarcely waited half a second before breaking out in enthusiastic applause. The first couple of times it happened it was annoying. I wanted to let the sound settle in my soul, and what she was doing was making that impossible. After about the fifth or sixth piece, I gently tapped her on the shoulder and asked if she could please wait until the piece was completely over before applauding. I don’t know how impertinent I was with my request. I certainly felt that she was impertinent in the timing of her applause … so if my request was impertinent, then so be it.

That’s how I felt until intermission when she politely asked me … in a distinctly Welsh accent … if it was customary in my country to wait so long before applauding. I stammered an embarrassed apology and tried to explain my reasons for my request. I learned that she was a member of the choir but was unable to sing that evening due to some voice problems. She then explained that to a Welsh choir, immediate applause indicated a deeper appreciation than delayed applause. She wanted the applause to start early because she knew what it would mean to the choir members. I wanted the applause to wait because I wanted to savor every last sound the choir made.

Each of us assumed that the actions of the other indicated a lack of depth in appreciating the music … when just the opposite was the case. Neither of us understood the other until we actually had a conversation. I’m still embarrassed when I think about that incident … but it reminds me that I can’t possibly know what someone else is thinking until I actually talk with them. And whenever I assume that I know … I can be very, very wrong.

That’s enough to think about for now. The peace of Christ to you.


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