Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Some Things Just Can't Be Explained

My ongoing dialogue about the existence of God continues with my oldest friend, and while I maintain that the more I know, the more I realize I don’t know, and while I enjoy any conversation that encourages me to think and question what I believe, I continue to rest assured about the existence of God. And here is just one reason why.  

In the past few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of several significant music making experiences. This is one of the perks of having chosen a profession that I love and that gives to me far more joy than frustration. As a result, I’ve been lucky enough to experience unexplainable welling of emotion in several instances in recent days. In some cases I was moved by text as enhanced by music, in others by the simple joy of watching young people actually capturing the meaning and joy of what they were singingas they sang it.

While in New York with some of my students who were participating in the Honors Performance Series National Honor Choir, under the direction of Dr. Eph Ehly, I found myself brought very close to tears of joy during not one, but two different rehearsals of Dan Forrest’s gorgeous setting of  You Are the Music.  Amy Lowell’s poem, which grounds the work, is moving in its text, but gains its power from Forrest’s setting of the lyrics to music.  Were I to simply read the poem, I would no doubt be moved, but not to the heart-rending depths that occurred from hearing this text sung—and understood and experienced—by almost 300 talented high school students from all over the country.

‘Tis you that are the music, not your song.
The song is but a door which, op’ning wide,
Lets forth the pent-up melody inside,
Your spirit’s harmony, which clear and strong
Sings but of you.
Throughout your whole life long
Your songs, your thoughts, your doings, each divide,
This perfect beauty.
Waves within a tide, 
Or single notes amid a glorious throng.
The song of earth has many different chords; 
many moods and many tones,
Yet always ocean.
So is this one music,
with a thousand cadences.
Listening by Amy Lowell

A couple of weeks later, I was back in Kansas listening to the Kansas All State Choir rehearse under the direction of Dr. Edith Copely. These talented kids were exploring the gamut of human emotion in the various selections they were preparing, and they were realizing some powerful musical and emotional moments. I shared one of those “in my gut” moments when I am moved and so glad I am a part of this profession as they sang How Can I Keep From Singing arranged by Taylor Davis, and Tides of Ocean by Matthew Orlovich. Because of near blizzard conditions in Wichita, these young singers had been fighting staggered arrivals of members of the choir, and the stress of getting there themselves.  Dr. Copely, however, managed what could have been an untenable situation, guiding them to some incredible musical moments to which they followed willingly and received their just reward.

I’m not a publicly emotional person as a rule.  Perhaps this is why music is an important part of my life, because it gives voice and expression to emotions that I am loathe to express openly in any other way. What is it about music that gives it the ability to reach to our very depths and extract the very feeling that has been suppressed and craves outward expression?  What is that overwhelming wave of feeling that conjures up goose bumps (or “chicken skin” or chills, depending on your geographic locale) almost to the point of weeping or laughter?  I can’t explain it, anymore than I can explain God’s existence.  But I can’t deny the power of it.  And how could something that powerfully moving not have some divine Creator as its author?

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation,
I hear the sweet, tho’ far-off hymn
That hails a new creation;
Thro’ all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul —
How can I keep from singing?
What tho’ my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Saviour liveth;
What tho’ the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?
I lift my eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smooths,
Since first I learned to love it;
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing;
All things are mine since I am his —
How can I keep from singing?
– Robert Lowry

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