If you heard anybody say that they had planned a Children’s Day service around Vivaldi’s Gloria, you’d probably think that is a good way of keeping the children away. In this day and age, “classical” music is often frowned upon – even though this was really baroque music which was composed prior to the classical period. Be this as it may; it just cannot compete with Lady Gaga – or can it?
But then you look at the details. Vivaldi was a priest and a music director for children. The Gloria was specifically composed for girls and only later arrangements added the men’s voices. Consequently, it was not difficult for our two Sunday School classes to make contributions to Children’s Day based on Vivaldi.
The older class researched his life online. Computer work comes natural to kids; all one has to do is to provide direction: “See what you can find out about a man called Vivaldi”. The class found out that he started a pauper and ended as such. They learned about his emergency baptism during an earthquake, and they took note of his attempts of settling in Vienna after his music had grown out of fashion in Venice where he was born. Following this research, we turned the information into three fun little skits that would interrupt our performance and provide much needed context.
The younger class was intrigued by Vivaldi’s nickname as the “Red Priest”. Apparently his hair color had earned him that name. So the class set out to draw two portraits of the Red Priest. Put on an easel during worship, they gave a sense of Vivaldi’s physical presence as we listened to his music.
But do you know what I liked the most? The incredible beauty of the Gloria; its non-quivering stateliness that persevered so easily despite the interruptions of our fresh skits! We are a small urban congregation, constantly suffering from shortages of all kinds: attendance, volunteers, money, air-conditioned space, etc.
Who would have thought that a place like ours can have a five-piece orchestra, including an oboe and a harpsichord? So we thank especially the musicians who joined us for the day for their selfless service: Julia Fendler (oboe), Beth Maliszewski (viola and violin), Aimee McPeak (cello) and Samantha Tomblin (violin). A great thank you goes also to Ben Berman, not just for conducting and playing the harpsichord, but for organizing this wonderful occasion. And our choir was superb!
I have one closing remark: If it is relatively unlikely that a small inner-city church can organize a rich musical worship like this, think how this corresponds to Vivaldi’s circumstance! It is a well-known euphemism that Vivaldi worked for a Venetian “orphanage”. In reality, it was a place for the “illegitimate” daughters of anonymous Venetian noblemen. In their nobility, these men endowed the institution to such degree that it was able to afford someone like Vivaldi. In summary, this means that his most sacred music was built on one of the great dislocations of the culture of his day. But isn’t that what true Christianity so often does?