No word is more important in describing the playing of Chopin's music than rubato. It comes from the Italian word robare, to rob, but in music it means "give and take." If you steal a little time here, you've got to give it back. For example, in playing a melodic phrase, if you go forward in the first two bars, you must pull back in the next two so that the freedom you took does not break the rhythmical pulse. The classic feeling will come from the left hand, which Chopin insisted should be played as evenly as possible. Then the right hand can have its romance and play as freely as the left hand will allow. Every performer will use that freedom differently, and that is the beauty of the "disciplined freedom" that makes Chopin Chopin.
Janis also uses this concept of "disciplined freedom" in his book Chopin and Beyond to transition from discussing architecture to music. There he states that "A phrase must be given the same kind of disciplined freedom so all of its beauty can shine through."
Can we also use this concept in thinking about religious life?
My sense is that part of this is the product of just such a disciplined freedom. Friends are accountable to themselves and that of God within both themselves and others, as well as to a discerned sense of God's will within a community (non-theist Friends would likely choose different language here). A meeting for worship with attention to business is an excellent example of this process, which Zachary Dutton amusingly compares with making a pizza: "We put toppings on the pizza, and sometimes they are toppings we’d never have imagined for ourselves, but which somehow work to make the flavor great" (Zachary continues with a helpful chart on how a meeting can move forward even in the absence of unity. You can read the whole post here.)
That's not the whole story, of course. A disciplined freedom implies the existence of undisciplined freedom. What exactly constitutes lack of discipline is a matter of interpretation, and so it has to be acknowledged that Quakers have taken advantage of a less hierarchical structure to provide an outlet in cases of disagreement - separation through breakaway, exile, or schism. On the one hand it is with sadness that I look upon the numerous branches of Friends that may have very little if any interaction with one another (Christena Cleveland's Disunity in Christ is an insightful and powerful reminder of the downside of this approach). On the other hand, I can't help but marvel at both the beauty in variation and the very disciplined freedom it takes to peacefully walk away from one another in the face of significant disagreement.
Can we also use this concept in thinking about life beyond religious community?
I believe so. Accountability in this religious context almost all involves an external authority - the divine - who again offers each of us individually and in community a freedom meant to be constrained by discipline. As Lord Acton puts it, liberty is not "the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought." But what if we remove that condition? Does disciplined freedom become impossible?
I think the answer is quite possibly not, and this is where the non-theist Quakers, non-Quakers, and anyone else interested in political theory and practice can just as equally participate in the conversation. One might object that such a social agreement might work within the confines of a mutually agreed-upon religious foundation but not beyond those borders. And this is typically where the state enters in as an answer to a Hobbesian "nasty, brutish, and short" life in his envisioned "state of nature." As Anthony de Jasay masterfully displays in The State, however, many of the stated reasons for the necessity of the state as the non-divine external authority that allows for social cooperation fall apart under scrutiny. The assumption of a one-off encounter with humans doesn't reflect the reality of ongoing interaction and the possibility to develop social bonds over time:
It is intuitively plausible that in a state of nature where people do not instantly club each other to death in a single-stage non-cooperative performance of the dilemma game, but where they survive for some time and have both occasion and incentive to assess and heed each other's capacity for retaliation, vengefulness, mutual protection, gratitude, fair play, etc. the prisoners' dilemma becomes both very much more complicated and loses much of its inexorability.
Nor need one limit the application of this result to the sole bellum omnium contra omnes. Hobbes makes people choose Leviathan to produce order out of purported chaos. But people need not have chosen Leviathan, since some kind of cooperative solution, some kind of order emerges in the state of nature, too, though it may not be the same kind of order as that produced by the state.
As Jasay (and others) go on to say, employing the state as a means of social cohesion and order is not a morally neutral decision. Because the enforcement of this order - and all of the decisions that ultimately flow from an ever-widening sphere of state authority - rely on the threat of violence, this option presents a very different model from one based on voluntary engagement and peaceful separation. In this way, a discussion of the life beyond the religious community of Friends (and others) ought to reflect back upon and impact the way in which religious faith and religious community operates in the world.
So what do you say to this? Does the concept of disciplined freedom speak to your condition and experience - in a religious sense and/or beyond? Why or why not? I'll leave you with some artistic freedom and Chopin as you think it over...