If the shoe fits…

How does that sentence end? Is it always an unfinished sentence aimed at pointing the finger at someone without having to actually verbalise the accusation?

I guess a shoe seller would finish it – buy it!

Of course for Cinderella the shoe fitting was good news. If the shoe fits…you must be the girl for me…..The accusation/judgement came when the shoe didn’t fit. The shoe was the set measurement, and the feet had to comply.

When something is accused of being a bad fit – what sort of solutions are available to us? When buying a pair of shoes it is the shoe that needs to be changed, not the foot – whatever Grimms fairytales might offer up as a gruesome solution. Otherwise blisters, pinching and ultimately a waste of money will ensue.

But what if the notes that an orchestra are playing don’t fit with the score? Is the conductor and his sheet music to be ousted as a bad fit – or does the challenge need to lie elsewhere?

Let me tell you a story about a village orchestra. This orchestra had been going for generations. Rejecting sheet music, they merely played the tunes they liked by ear until they sounded right. Their instruments were in tune with each other and everyone was happy. One generation passed the tunes on to the next and so it went on.

The problems all started when someone new moved into the village. He loved the songs listed in the orchestra’s repertoire and was eager to join in. Although he played several instruments his passion was conducting. He loved to equip and draw out each individual player to do their best, to play their part, enabling them together to produce the beautiful music so skillfully composed all those years ago. He had been part of quite a few orchestras in his time and had read of and heard about far more from all around the world. What never failed to delight him was that whatever the size or skill or location of the orchestra, no matter how rich or poor the players were, no matter how plain or fancy their instruments were – the music he loved could be announced by those people in that place to their pleasure and to the pleasure of those around them.

Things started out OK. The orchestra had needed a conductor and this one seemed keen. It soon became clear, however, that he just didn’t know the tunes. When he demonstrated a section of the music – it sounded all wrong. His demands in terms of timing and expression were preposterous. They might be OK where he came from, but it wasn’t how things were done here.

They were patient however, he was new and they believed, or at least hoped, that in time he would learn. As long as they stuck to the tunes they knew and loved and played so well they would be OK. He would either change his tune, or give up and go elsewhere. They met without him to practise things the right way. When the audience questioned the new conductor they would nod understandingly and reassure their listeners that they were quite right to be distressed and that they were doing their best to keep a normal service going.

As the years passed, however, people stopped coming to hear them. Although a few people did seem to enjoy the music the conductor was introducing, the overall trend was down. Some of the players left – either to hang up their instruments for good, or to play elsewhere. What would happen when their concert hall needed repairs? They had lost much of the good feeling that they had previously enjoyed in the village and money was short – despite the support that came in from outside the musical world due to the historical and architectural significance of their venue. Pressure was put on the conductor to leave – no hard feelings – it just wasn’t a good fit. Letters were written and meetings organised to make their feelings clear. Some of the powers that be joined in. If he wasn’t going to change his tune maybe it was just better for all concerned that he took it elsewhere.

That there is a mis-fit in this situation is obvious. The distress and tension and heartache are very real.

The music that the conductor cherishes and trusts says one thing and the traditional tunes of the village say another. Of course the conductor knows he still has much to learn about the music, there are sections he wants to understand better etc – but it is the composer’s notes on the page that are his point of reference and he is confident that he is trying to play and help others to play what the composer intended. How heartbreaking for him to find so many who hold the composer in so little regard.

But we feel for the orchestra as well. They loved their music, and the role it played in the village. Of course they wanted more to come and listen to them, more to come and play with them, but they knew times and fashions were changing. They still believed in their music and found great pleasure in it and so they concluded that it still had an important role to play in the village.

So how to resolve this mis-fit. Do the notes played by the orchestra need to change to fit with the score the conductor is trying to introduce them to – or should the conductor follow their lead, and change his tune?

How confident is the conductor that his job is to preserve the integrity of the original score? How important to him is it that the tune played in the composer’s name in this little village is the tune he has before him in the sheets of notes and musical directions?

Because at the moment the conductor is being treated like an ill-fitting pair of shoes. A rash purchase to be regretted and a cause of great discomfort for all concerned. For many the time has come to give up on the blister plasters, to stop using this insole, or that pair of thick socks to minimise the discomfort and to simply send the shoes off with good wishes that they find a better fit elsewhere.

And if it is just a case of a bad fit – not fault of the shoe or the foot – then that would be entirely sensible and much less painful than the current situation.

But what if the orchestra is nothing more than an ugly sister?

What if (and I realise I am mixing my metaphors terribly here) the conductor is the bearer of the glass slipper on a mission for the Prince in search of his bride. In the glass slipper he holds the authoritative¬†measurement of a person’s claim to belong to the Prince. If the shoe doesn’t fit…than it is the foot that needs to change – not the shoe.

What if our shoe-bearer has been told to leave no stone unturned. What if some of the rightful wearers of this shoe (for countless multitudes will be the bride of this Prince) are lost in this very village? What if they are relying on him to stick it out, protecting the glass slipper at all costs, until they are given the chance to slip it on their feet and be claimed by their Prince?

Pray for God’s conductors/shoe-bearers in this country. They are not perfect, but their message is – pray for their protection and perseverance as they are treated like an increasingly despised ill-fitting pair of shoes.

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