Musical aesthetics


“I’m really nervous,” quipped James Kallembach, conductor of the University Chorus, Motet Choir, and Rockefeller Chapel Choir, “I don’t usually talk.” As attendees at today’s Divinity School lunch finished off rosemary potatoes, tomato and onion quiche, and dark chocolate mousse, he kicked off his talk, Mysticism and New Choral Music, with a disclaimer. “I don’t know much about mysticism,” he confessed, explaining that “contemplation” was a more apt term for his intended subject—the philosophy of aesthetics.

“Aesthetics,” Kallembach observed, “is what musicians chat about in the undergraduate cafeteria” before they’re trained with the scholar’s analytical tools. He compared the process to a Brita water filter made so complex that one forgets the existence of the water itself. Mourning this “crisis of meaning and value,” the U of C director of choral activities encouraged listeners to appreciate art’s “radiance of form” rather than forever trying to explicate its usefulness. “It’s OK that art is useless in the way a shovel is useful, and art is good in and of itself, in the way a shovel is not,” he said. “Utility,” Kallembach concluded, “need not be made into an idol.”


Photo: Kallembach speaks in Swift Hall.

February 15, 2006