Wednesday, January 18, 2012

186. "Copying Beethoven" and Discipleship

I recently watched a movie called "Copying Beethoven." The gist of the movie revolves around a lady named Anna holz who moves to London in order to become a composer. She gets the break of a lifetime and ends up being assigned by her employer to be Beethoven's scribe as it were. Her task was basically to "copy" all of Beethoven's compositions into legible formats that could be used by the orchestra during his performances. I want to highlight a few things I picked up on about discipleship form watching this movie.

1. Chemistry and Competence

In a previous post, I identified two focal points of chemistry in a discipling relationship: character and competence. If you have seen the movie "Copying Beethoven", then you know there was absolutely no chemistry in the area of character between Anna and Beethoven. In fact, Beethoven is depicted as a real jerk and it is questionable whether he had anyone who admired his character. In the movie, Beethoven was a great example of competency exceeding character, and it was a raunchy scenario indeed.

However, there was a scene where Anna reveals a potent chemistry with Beethoven's competency as a composer. In a moment of heated discussion, Beethoven in his typically abnoxious, confrontational manner erupted on Anna and asked her point blank "Why do you want to be around me?!?!?!?!" Trembling with pen in hand, Anna looks him in the eye and says with all the confidence she can muster "Because when I am around you, I feel like I can make music too." This is a great illustration of chemistry centered around competency. Anna was repulsed by his lack of character, but she was drawn to his competence as a composer.

2. Discipleship and Humility

Right before Beethoven is about to conduct the orchestra, Anna is summoned form her seat in the audience. away from her boyfriend, to meet with Beethoven in the conductors chambers. Beethoven is overtaken by anxiety as he is confronted with his incompetence to keep time and direct the orchestra adequately. His difficulties with hearing impaired his ability to stay in sync with the tempo of the music and the actual tempo of the orchestra as it plaid. Beethoven pleads with her to help him keep time by standing below the orchestra in front of him, so he can look at her movements and "copy" them. Here is a clip of the scene on you tube.

This is a great picture of someone who is obviously extremely competent in one area humbling themselves to imitate someone else who is competent in another area. Beethoven was a better composer than Anna, but Anna had greater competency in the area of directing and keeping time.

Discipleship is an exercise in humility. To imitate someone else, we have to be willing to take the posture of a learner. We have to be willing to own up to our incompetence in certain areas of our lives. We all have competence in various aspects of our lives, but we also have various levels of incompetence inother areas. When we are being discipled by someone, we are looking to develop the areas of our lives that currently demonstrate incompetency.

3. Discipleship and the Composition of Scripture.

At the end of the movie Beethoven is on his deathbed. Anna has developed an affinity for Beethoven, and looks to care for him at his bedside. Anna had spent so much time copying Beethoven's work she had grown intimately familiar with his methods and patterns of artistry.

As the movie closes, Anna finds herself scribing music as Beethoven leads her and tells her what to write. On several instances Anna anticipates Beethoven's thoughts and finishes his sentences for him, scribing the music onto the sheet of paper. In the process of imitating, transcribing and copying Beethoven, she began to think, write and compose music like him. In the process, she would discover her own inner sound.

I have to wonder if the concept of the inspiration of scripture could not stand to be infused with a healthy exposure to the concept of imitation and discipleship. Craig C. hill writes the following in his book In God's Time: The bible and the Future.

"Prior to photography, engraving was the principal means of creating and reproducing pictures. Images cut in wood, copper or steel were inked and transferred to hundreds or even thousands of sheets of paper. Prints, often published with accompanying text, were the popular media of the 16th-19th centuries, much as television is today. As with television programming, the quality of printmaking varied enormously. The great majority of prints were churned out quickly and sold cheaply to a mass audience. A smaller but still significant number were fashioned by accomplished artists who invested weeks or even months in the production of a single image.

Several of the best artists, such as Dürer and Rembrandt, attracted students who learned to engrave in their style. Some of these apprentices were so good that their work is all but indistinguishable from that of their teachers. In some cases, it is impossible to discriminate between, for example, a Rembrandt original and a print originating in the Rembrandt "school." The situation is further complicated by the fact that artists would occasionally compose part of a work themselves and then assign its completion to their students. The better the student, the harder it is to tell where the hand of the master ends and that of the apprentice begins.

If I owned such a print, I would be eager to know to what extent it was an "original." I could take the engraving to a series of experts, but they might well disagree amongst themselves. What should I do? I could apply White Out to all of the questionable bits, but the result would hardly be a truer or more appealing picture, and there is a good chance that I would obscure parts of the original in the process. A more sensible course would be to find satisfaction in knowing that, both directly and indirectly, the work reflects the genius of the master.

Now imagine that we possessed no original pictures by a certain master engraver, that his art could be "recovered" only through an analysis of the work of his students. Imagine, too, that the engravings of his students varied somewhat in style and subject matter. Any assessment of the master’s work based upon such evidence could be convincing on only a fairly general level. Detailed analyses that attempted to separate the master’s work from that of his students would at best be speculative exercises. In all likelihood, such studies would produce widely differing, even contradictory results reflecting the biases of the individual interpreters. One critic might claim that only prints containing horses are genuine; another might believe that only lines of a certain width could have been engraved by the master. The further such studies distanced the teacher from his students–and thus from the only source of possible evidence–the more speculative they would become. A master who exercised negligible influence over his "followers" would simply be unknowable. A modern-day account of such a figure would be almost entirely a product of its author’s own imagination.

Such is our situation when we undertake a study of the historical Jesus. Each of the four Gospels presents us with a portrait of Jesus composed by a later follower but containing traditions that go back to Jesus himself. How much of the resulting picture is owed to Jesus and how much to the Gospel writer and to the Church, which passed down and shaped the tradition before him, is impossible to sort out cleanly. There is no consistently reliable way of separating the "original" Jesus from subsequent Christian interpretations. This is especially true with respect to the content of Jesus’ teaching. Most scholars would agree that Jesus’ words underwent some modification and even expansion in the years prior to the writing of the Gospels, but there is no agreement whatsoever as to the extent and nature of these changes. For that reason, an endless parade of incompatible Jesus’ emerge from the workshops of scholars. In the unlikely event that someone did manage successfully to separate Jesus’ words from later Christian alterations and amendments, we would have no way of knowing it. The essential question, therefore, is whether the early Christians were, in effect, good students ("disciples") of Jesus, and thus whether the New Testament authors basically got Jesus right..."

Well, as an evangelical, if you will, I obviously think they got it right, but the mechanism that ensured there accuracy, in my mind, were not entirely mystical and devoid of human influence. There was also a sociological mechanism of imitation that contributed to the accuracy of the message being transcribed and transmitted to us. What if imitation was factored in to how we understand and explain inspiration? It is worth a look I think.


Anonymous said...

What a great post. This reminds me of when Peter and John were in a confrontation with the scribes, rulers, Annas, etc. They were amazed at the authority of Peter and John and "knew that they had been with Jesus." In the eyes of rulers and scribes, Jesus wasn't there, but now there were two more of Him standing there. Jesus knew what He was doing with imparting character and competence for sure!

Tim Catchim said...

Yea good point. There is an interesting study somewhere of how the apostles imitate the actions of Jesus ion the book of Acts.