Music Hard to Sing

Someone has said that good music is music which is written better than it can be sung (or played).

I’m on a “Turandot” kick right now. I’ve loved this Puccini opera for two decades after discovering how different it is from all the others, but without knowing why. I’m not a musician or a singer to speak of. I just swoon at certain kinds of music, however, and this is one of them.

What was puzzling me for years was why Turandot was never as well known as Puccini’s other more popular operas (La Boheme, Tosca, and Madame Butterfly). Why fewer people had even heard of it. And today I found out why.

The liner notes on a CD of highlights from this opera explains that the soprano who sang the part of Princess Turandot was required to do things most singers cannot do. Here is critic Benjamin Folkman:

As late as the 1950s, facing two significant barriers, Turandot was a relative rarity in opera houses. First, it’s spicy harmonies was too modern for opera-devotees’ tastes. Second, the opera was (and is) too difficult to cast. Sopranos who would jump at the change to star in Puccini’s other operas all turned down the role of Princess Turandot. It requires a special type of voice. A Turandot must bring a supreme soprano’s tonal weight and thrust to a sort of unrelieved high-register writing normally comfortable only for piping soubrettes.

That’s what he said. I looked up “soubrettes.” It implies flightly, thin high-pitched voices.

What then made Turandot so popular today? After all, people today love it.

Folkman: The legendary laser-voiced Turandot with which Birgit Nilsson thrilled a whole generation of opera lovers. Also, Luciano Pavarotti brought Nessun Dorma into households and made it a favorite.

In other words, for over 30 years after his death, Puccini’s opera sat there waiting for the right singers. When they came and when they showed what could be done with that music, nothing has been the same since.

They say that the great virtuoso Nicolo Paganini used to write violin concertos so difficult no one could play them, including himself. Then, after writing it, he would work on it until he could.

Good music: written better than it can be played.

The Christian life is a lot like that. The standard it lays out before us is beyond our ability to live up to on a consistent basis. But there it is, and we are not going to be bringing it down to our level. Not with His blessings, we’re not.

Take the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). In chapter 5, the Lord tells us our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees if we expect to make the Kingdom of Heaven. He says we are to be as perfect even as our Father who is in Heaven is perfect.

Good luck with that, right?

Here are my conclusions. You’ll come to your own….

1. God’s standard for His children is always perfection. His goal for us is “the glory of God.”

2. We will always fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) The 103rd Psalm assures us God is not taken by surprise in this. “He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.”

3. We must hold to the standard while jettisoning the perfectionism. Perfectionism may sound right, but it’s a killer. It basically holds that if I can’t do something perfectly, I’ll not even try it at all. That is a sure-fire prescription for failure. We do well to remind ourselves repeatedly that the service we render to our Father in this life will be less than perfect, our knowledge is partial, and our motives are so complex. But let us go forward anyway.

4. We will keep working, keep serving, keep loving, and thus keep growing in Christlikeness.

5. Only when we someday stand in His presence will the sanctification process be finished and we shall be perfect. We will “know as also we are known.”

6. And in Heaven, when we sing the “new song,” the greatest surprise of all will be this: we will sing it exactly as it is written.

And won’t that be something!

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