639-year Concert

(Click here for a video of John reading this Catch.)


Time is an ocean, but it ends at the shore. – Bob Dylan

There is a live concert going on right now being performed at this very moment on a special organ built just for this purpose in a medieval church in Halberstadt, Germany. This concert started a month before 9/11, on September 5, 2001, and it will finish sometime in the year 2640, if this present earth makes it that far (which seems highly doubtful). Nevertheless, tomorrow is a special day. There will be a note change from the G-sharp that has been playing for the last 518 days. Prior to that, there was a note that lasted seven years.

The piece that’s being performed is the “Organ2/ASLSP” by avant-garde Composer John Cage. Mr. Cage never envisioned that his 8-page organ piece would take 639 years to complete but he did write it to be performed As Slow As Possible” (ASLSP) Prior to this innovative project, the slowest it had been performed took eight hours. Most performances have been about an hour long. 

It took a specially built organ set in a 12th century abandoned church in this small town in the eastern part of Germany to do this six-century-long concert. There is no organist; the notes are held down by sandbags. Call it what you want — a bizarre piece of contemporary art, a gimmick, a tourist trap (there is a constant flow of visitors, and a small crowd gathers when there is to be a note change), or a ludicrous idea, but it is what it is, and tomorrow will be a big day.

At first this whole thing seems hardly worth the effort. But further reflection starts you thinking. It does give you a certain perspective on time. The Dylan quote above and his name on a poem at the site that ends with, “Roll on John,” make you think he might have been there at some point to celebrate this concert. Who knows? Maybe he was the opening act! But his poem has a lot to do with time.

Do we think only in terms of our own lives ticking off the hours and minutes? Or do we see ourselves in context with generations, centuries, or millenniums? We are part of a much bigger whole than just a lifetime. 

I once imagined a hundred-year-old person who had touched Jesus touching someone else who would go on to live a hundred years, touching someone else who would go on to live a hundred years, and so on, right up to the present, and realized you would have only 20 people. I could fit that many people in my living room! Two thousand years may seem like a long time, but when you think about it like that, it’s really not. 

There’s a lot of talk around the Catch about the distance between Millennials and Boomers. But when you think there could be 20 guys sitting in my living right now who touched somebody who touched Jesus, a couple of generations are nothing.

Stuff like this fascinates me. Its nonsense, but it does get you thinking. Here’s a piece that’s going to go on for another 618 years.

There’s just something about the thought that if the world is still here in 618 years, people might gather in a 12th century church to hear the end of a single bizarre piece of music by a 20th century composer, played as slowly as possible.

The slow one now will later be fast

As the present now will later be past. – Bob Dylan

This entry was posted in Art and Life, forgiveness, Millennials and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to 639-year Concert

  1. I’m relieved to read that this “magnum opus” is being played through an automated technique otherwise I’d feel terrible for the organist and the poor page-turner of the sheet music…

  2. Toni Petrella says:

    I cannot imagine anything more joyful than a piece of music being played in a church for many years. Any music in any church is the best. Some of my most memorable moments in worship of the Lord in church was from the music and amazing about an old piece that has been playing for years and will continue to play.

  3. Mark D Seguin says:

    Very interesting…

  4. Paul says:

    We in our humanness can only enjoy a few notes of this song. However God can enjoy the whole song. A good reminder that God is not constrained by our human concept of time.

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