Saturday, November 17, 2007

Music & Hope

Jeremy Begbie's article in the November 13 "The Christian Century" entitled "Sound Theology" is a provocative contribution to the ongoing dialogue about worship and music. Introducing the article, editor John Buchanan said that music is "a topic about which everyone is his or her own authroity on taste but mostly ignorant when it comes to the details." Begbie spends a good bit of time analyzing the flow of music from equilibrium to tension to resolution (ETR). His is not a noble defense of good, classical hymnody that we all know and love (tongue in cheek), but a deeper look at why some music evokes deep responses in audiences and congregations. Great music, he says, "invites us to live on many levels....Put differently: there is always hope if we live on more than one level."
Here is where his writing caught my pastoral/theological heart. The people of Israel lived out their promises on multiple levels: immediate, partial, future. They still do when they say at the Passover, "Next year in Jerusalem." Living on multiple levels lets me see this life in a deeper context with a rich and vibrant past, a complex present and a real and hopeful future.
But our postmodern culture mitigates against that multiple level living. "We dare not hope for anything too great in the long term; nor, many would say, do we know how to hope for anything in the long teram. With the so-called death of the meta-narrative, we can settle only for microhopes, a stretching of a lifespan at most."
MICROHOPES! What a great word. How descriptive is that of most of our modern lives; little microhopes strung together from week to week: help me with my boss and my job, help me get through the final exam, help me with this tangible thing here and now. Those are valid and honorable prayers, but very immediate and short: microhope. What about hope for the planet and the nations, the prisoners and the victims. I need music to fuel my life-battles on deeper levels. I look for my music to take me into places I have not gone (which is why I so enjoy the new Over the Rhine album. Hope pushes me through the night into a new dawn.


At 5:28 PM , Blogger Beth B said...

"Begbie spends a good bit of time analyzing the flow of music from equilibrium to tension to resolution (ETR)."

Guess that's why Barber's "Adagio for Strings" and Vaughan Williams' "Fantasy on a Theme of Thomas Tallis" move me so. They are magnificent examples of the ETR structure, and thus crystalize the gospel: Eden, Fall, New Heaven/New Earth; Life, death, new life in Christ.

If at all possible, I want these pieces played at my funeral, because they will communicate hope in a profound way, beneath and alongside the Scriptures.

At 8:28 PM , Blogger donnjohnson said...

Beth, I'd be interested in what stirs your heart/faith more; instrumental or vocal, choral or solo?

At 2:17 PM , Blogger Beth B said...

Oh, Donn! How can you ask an opera lover that question? : )

You'll understand then that I am most stirred by pieces that combine soloists and/or chorus and instruments: Messiah, Mahler's 2, Beethoven's 9, Vivaldi's Gloria, Requiems (Verdi, Brahms, Faure, Andrew Lloyd Weber,) Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, Brahm's Alto Rhapsody, the final acts of Rosenkavalier and Parsifal, the choral version of Barber's Adagio, sung to the Agnus Dei. Russian liturgical music with its unearthly basses. Vaughan William's Ceremony of Carols. Orff's Carmina Burana. (Not necessarily in that order).

To me, the human voice is the greatest instrument God gave us; but as you can see I'm pretty picky about my voices.

How would you answer your own question? :D


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