07 September 2017

Two things

And they aren't related, except they are at the deepest level.

First, at my sister-in-law's recommendation, I've been listening to a series of lectures titled The Story of Human Language. It is an amazing presentation and invites us to step outside of the textbooks and look at and think about language as the living thing it is; ever changing; ever moving from this to that. It is absolutely riveting. I have been listening on Audible and the lecturer, Dr. John McWhorter throws out tangents like fireworks and without ever slowing his pace. The pace is ridiculously fast and that makes it all the more intriguing. Information flows at you from languages around the globe and yet it is quite accessible. Highly, highly recommended.

The other thing was tonight's choir rehearsal. Wow. We started with Bach and Jan said quite simply: "The Bach chorale is the backbone (or did she say foundation?) of the Lutheran Choir." YES. And then a lovely piece she composed, striking in its chord changes. Then to Pachelbel ("On God and Not On Human Trust") and finally to Buxtehude ("Lord, Keep Us Steadfast"). It was fun, challenging, amazing.

The deeper relation is that music is a language and language is "musical." They draw toward each other. Music has even been called "the universal language" and not without reason. But music begs for words. It just does. I suppose it makes me a defective human being, but I can suffer through a Beethoven Symphony. Shoot, I even rather enjoy the pastoral one before it goes on forever. BUT what I have always been drawn to is the magical dance of music and words. My German is just sufficient to enjoy the entirety of Pachelbel's Mass for Christmas Day, or Sch├╝tz' Christmas Vespers. I did take a couple semesters of Russian in College but somehow memorizing how to say: "Is Peter Ivanovich at home? No, he is at work. Where does he work? At the factory" never equipped me to understand the sublime words of Rachmaninov's All Night Vigil. And even though I don't know what they're saying (other than the odd "Slava" and "alleluia"), I could listen to it for hours on end. I don't know the words and yet at some level I'll never understand I know that they FIT the music.

And that is what I love about the music we sang in choir tonight. The words and the music really and truly DANCE together. It's hard to stand still. Just as with moments in the Rachmaninov you WANT to fall flat on your face before the beauty of such Divine Love, so in the Pachbel "On God and Not on Human Trust" you want to twirl about like David before the Ark. The words and the music are not in any tension, but the one illumines the other. Language is more than communication. Language is magical and the ability to tell stories to one another is probably the key thing that makes human being BE human beings, looked at anthropologically. And what people does not sing? But there can be no question that the singing took on a whole new direction and opened new vistas when music found its home in the Word of God. Oh, they're not equal. The music is there to serve the Word, not vice versa. And the Word is what calls forth the music (just think of how we can't stop making new hymns about Christmas, about Easter). But the music is true when it lets the Word lead the waltz, set the tone, and fill it to overflowing; then it is the sung story of Divine Love, shining forth from manger, from cross, from shattered tomb.

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