Fraggles, Doozers and the Pandemic

My father calls me Doozer. I’m told that the genesis of this particular term of endearment was my special enthusiasm for the Doozers of Fraggle Rock. Do you remember Fraggle Rock? I suppose I’m dating myself a bit.

The well-loved 1980’s series featured two groups of people: the care-free and jubilant Fraggles, and the diligent, hard-working Doozers. They had two rather opposite philosophies: Play vs Work.

Dance your cares away, worry’s for another day

Let the music play—down at Fraggle Rock!

So rings out the chorus, sung by the Fraggles. But the Doozers, the hard-working race of builders and miners, have a different approach:

Work your cares away. Dancing’s for another day

Let the Fraggles play—down at Fraggle Rock.

Two opposing views of life, and how to handle hardship. Does one deal with stress and anxiety by casting off their worries, “danc[ing] our cares away”? Or deal, instead, by settling in to the task at hand and focusing on our work.

As is usually the case with such dichotomies, the path of wisdom lies somewhere in the middle.

If we choose only the way of the Fraggles and ignore the work at hand, keep our head in the clouds, ignore all crises and choose instead only to see the rainbow and never the clouds, then we will be ill-prepared for the storms when they come—and they do, inevitably, come. Conversely, if all we ever see are the mountains of work and the looming storm clouds, and never take joy in the music, we’re likely to lose our minds completely. We know what all work and no play did for Jack.

The mounting mental-health crisis in North America will show that being a “dull boy” is really the least serious consequence of a work-driven culture, consistently mired in a state of “fight or flight” stress levels.

Slightly ironically, I’m actually more of a Fraggle than a Doozer myself, despite my childhood moniker. I’ve always been one to look on the bright side, to focus on the joy and the music — and, yes, usually procrastinate on the work that needs to get done — but let’s not dwell on that.

The role of choir director seems, to me, to have the greatest opportunity for that necessary balance of Working and Dancing (or Singing) our cares away-- because our work is Song. Our work is to lead the people in worship, to “make a joyful noise to God.”

“May you live in interesting times,” goes the phrase, apocryphally attributed to an ancient Chinese curse. A curse because, I think we who are struggling through this current crisis can all agree, “interesting times” are certainly no great joy to live through. Like Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, we lament that we wish none of this had happened in our time. Gandalf’s advice to Frodo is no less applicable to us: we cannot control what happens in our time — only what we shall do with the time given us.

So what do we choir directors do with the time given us?

As choir director, one of my less exciting jobs is to prepare the Choir Director’s Report for our parish’s annual general meeting. I’ll be honest — I usually copy and paste the previous year’s report, and then just make the odd specific change here and there. Because it’s pretty much always the same, isn’t it?

And that’s the way we like it, really. Rather like one’s regular confession — one doesn’t actually want something new and interesting to report.

My fellow congregants will attest that my annual report is pretty routine, including my opening spiel. “Our mandate is a difficult one,” I always say. “We must balance two callings — first, to lead the people in worship. Second — we must create a thing of beauty for God.”

I come back to this particular speech now, and think – how on earth can I do either of those jobs? How do I create a thing of beauty when live-streaming online, or over Zoom?

With physical distancing, and limited choir to add to the sound, how can I make anything sound good at all? And as for leading people—anyone who’s attempted to even speak the Lord’s Prayer in unison over Zoom knows how uphill that battle is. How much more difficult if one’s community is not actually coming together through video conferencing, but merely live-streaming a service that consists of only a priest, a deacon and a reader?

Can we really say we’re “leading the people”? Singing for them, perhaps. But one is only leading if others are actually there to follow. The mountain of work is looming, the storm clouds are large and dark overhead, and I’m losing sight of the rainbows.

It’s for this reason that I’m so looking forward to the upcoming Orthodox Music Symposium, being hosted online this month. The theme for this coming Symposium is “Music As Liturgy.”

What a perfect combination of the philosophies of both the Fraggles and the Doozers. For the word “Liturgy” means, literally, a public working. This theme combines perfectly the endeavours of Song and Joy with the endeavour of our necessary labour. This event will offer us the chance to come together and learn ways to unite both Dance and Work, to bring together Jubilance and Diligence and use them for God’s glory.

I don’t know what the future holds for us, in any facet of our lives, and church is no exception. Churches are slowly starting to re-open in some places, hopefully in full obedience to all local government provisions and restrictions. But large groups congregating indoors will continue to be banned for a very long time to come.

The science behind viral transmission is very well-documented, and very conclusive — and unfortunately means that singing in an enclosed room is an activity carrying extremely high risk. So, life and worship as we knew it is still a very long way off; not the news we want to hear, I know. We all want it to just be over now.

Sadly, as my father once told me after I first got my braces on, and was miserably anticipating the long road ahead: “The only way out is Through.”

But—if we can combine our Song and our Work, then perhaps we can both Dance our cares away AND Work our cares away. Music IS Liturgy, and “joy is the serious business of Heaven.”

#music #musicasliturgy #symposiums #2020symposium #choirdirecting #singing #pandemic #sing #labor #work #praise #prayer

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