Lent, Holy Week, and continued reflections

As we write this, it’s a solemn season in the Christian liturgical calendar. Lent has moved into Holy Week, which is ending with the remembrance of Christ’s crucifixion. It is a season for reflection on mortality and morality. In that spirit, we have been working on a project of three sets of videos on the medieval and Renaissance European concept of ars moriendi or the art of dying well. Here’s an overview of the ars moriendi concept to start with, and we’ll say more as we go along. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ars_moriendi

The ars moriendi theme is also suitable for Halloween/All Hallows, winter, and really any time. In fact, this whole past year of worldwide pandemic has brought many of us to similar reflections on morality, mortality, and other large human issues. Our ‘project for the dark seasons’, as mentioned in the last blog post, has similarly covered more than one season, all of them including societal and personal darkness. We started working on the videos in the dying-off time of autumn, but had much to learn about recording ourselves separately in our homes, combining live video and historical iconography, and editing the results into something acceptable to offer you. We couldn’t all be in the same acoustical space or the same light; we couldn’t even hear and respond to each other directly, instead having to pass recorded bits back and forth, messages in digital bottles that do reach their destinations but carry other uncertainties instead. We’ve been very lucky to bring on board someone with a lot of audio editing experience, but in an era of high expectations for recorded works, it has been a labour of both love and frustration to create even a less polished effect similar to a live performance with its acoustical challenges and moments of imperfection.

It’s tempting to think that recording should make it easier to produce perfection, but in fact for all the difficulties it eliminates (like having to get everything right then and there, being at the mercy of the acoustics of the performing space, etc.), it introduces others. Instead we’ve been at the mercy of various unmatched individual acoustics and recording tools, and things that could have been discussed in five minutes if we were physically together or even wordlessly settled in a rehearsal might now take weeks to decide on and put together. It can feel easy to fix mistakes in editing, but then we start to perceive many more things as mistakes because the recording equipment ‘hears’ things differently than the human ear does, or just because we know the recording is to become permanent where a live performance would be ephemeral – and other such challenges that we were only partly prepared for when we set out.

Still, despite having started in ignorance of just how long and difficult this voyage would be, we are starting to see signs of land on the horizon of these unknown waters. Thus, we continue beyond Lent, Holy Week, and northern winter into lighter parts of the calendar, and tentatively into times of greater hope regarding the pandemic. Still, our ars moriendi theme remains relevant, and we’ll let you know when the first set of videos goes up on YouTube.