Thursday, October 22, 2009


Celebration, as I have suggested, has food/drink at its essence. It must also have music.

Music can be as simple as a refrain chanted to a rhythmic beat; it can be as complex as a Mahler symphony. It can be as basic as “Happy Birthday To You” or (God help us) “Ninety-Nine Bottles Of Beer On The Wall.” It can be a lone voice singing a Kaddish, or the legendary choir of a thousand voices belting out “Hallelujah” from Messiah. It might be the bird song of Olivier Messiaen, or the song birds of my back yard.

As the spiritual says, I want to hear “music in the air.” I want the affirmation that there must be a God somewhere. Why should music be able to make this guarantee?

Perhaps it is because music is a ‘language’ that translates more easily than any other between cultures, civilizations, races. We get the beat, we hear the harmonies, we take pleasure in the beauty of the melodic lines. We fall in love.

Music at weddings and funerals, at birthday parties and anniversaries, is not ‘window dressing’ but something essential: if we haven’t sung, the celebration isn’t really complete. We don’t have arguments for this—we feel it viscerally. Being ‘non-rational,’ music is therefore able to express our feelings, our emotions, far more deeply than words. Easter Sunday can do without a homily, but it better not do without “Jesus Christ Is Ris’n Today.” No one, not even a “C & E Christian,” wants to do without “Silent Night” or “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”

There are folks who do not like to sing, usually because they think that they cannot, but I am willing to bet there are very, very few who do not wish they could sing (to their standards, anyway).

I sing much of the Sunday Eucharist, including the Eucharistic Prayer. People say they like it; why would they, unless music elevates their hearts and makes them more open to prayer?

This is the power of the art of sound—it nourishes the heart just as food & drink nourish the body. They are how and where we meet God.

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