Now, divine air! Now is his soul ravished! Is it not strange that sheep’s guts should hale souls out of men’s bodies? – Much Ado About Nothing, Act II, Scene III
I’m glad there is a God, because otherwise I might possibly worship music. And that wouldn’t work because, as wonderful as music makes me feel, it couldn’t save my soul.
Of course, without God, the beauty and sublimity of music wouldn’t exist, but let’s not get too theological.
Every spring, our local region (a cluster of several small communities) holds an annual music festival.
Last year, five of my (seven) daughters competed in piano classes, as well as in a choral class with their church youth choir. (Obligatory Mum’s Boast: the choir won an award and so did each of my girls, one of whom was named the festival’s
‘Most Outstanding Performer’. But I am equally proud of them all.)
The festival is the culmination of months of hard work and dedication by music students, teachers, and volunteers.
The reward is not so much the prizes, however delightful, but—to my mind—the opportunity to savour hours of live music. While it is not professional quality (though some of the older teens come close), there is much joy in seeing and hearing children who love music play their hearts out. And yours too.
My 12-year old played a song called The Last Lullaby by Michael Lett. As Frances had spent months learning and rehearsing the piece, I had heard it repeatedly and enjoyed its sweet, melancholy strains.
But it wasn’t until just before she performed it in competition that I learned the story behind the song. Not only is the composer Canadian, but he hails from my own province, born and raised not far from where I live.
When Michael wrote the piece, he was still in high school (wow), and he composed it for his sister who was dying of cancer.
I wish I hadn’t learned the backstory at that precise moment. I have strong emotional (and sometimes physiological) reactions to music at the best of times.
For instance, I can’t relax and go to sleep while listening to some classical music, because it makes my heart race and/or makes me break out in a sweat, even if I’m just lying on the couch doing nothing.
And I’m not talking John Phillip Sousa, either, but ethereal, sublime stuff like Faure’s Requiem. (I know. Totally weird.)
Live performances are more intense; there’s no comparison between a recording played on a good stereo system and a living, vibrating instrument in the same room. You might feel the vibrations of a stereo speaker, but you can’t feel the timbre—or the delight of a living human being singing or playing exquisite music. Someday soon, perhaps
I’ll be able to blame the flushed face and near-swooning fits on other middle-aged lady reasons, but for now it’s somewhat embarrassing to be caught slack-jawed (I hope I’ve never drooled in public), glassy-eyed, or in various other near-ecstatic states in the middle of a live musical performance.
But back to the music festival. As soon as Frances started playing The Last Lullaby, I thought about the composer and his sister.
I could feel my heart being twisted out of my rib cage and drawn slowly up my throat to the point where I thought I might suffocate or faint. Naturally, I didn’t want either of those things to happen, interruptions being strictly verboten at music festivals.
The sensation had to manifest somewhere, so I began to cry. Not sobbing, of course—just choked up and blurry-eyed, so that I could no longer watch my daughter perform.
I could only look down and discreetly try to blink away those tears threatening to ruin my mascara. I regained my composure before the next competitor took the stage.
Frances was awarded first place in that class, and later received a scholarship for that performance. Not that it matters: the song would have been achingly beautiful regardless of outcome.
I used to feel quite freakish about the way music affects me, until I read an essay by Chesterton in which he refers to the “unbearable beauty of music”.
I know just what he means. But I’m not surprised that music can do this. It is a gift from God, and (as far as I can tell) it’s the only thing we can ‘take with us’. For there is, and will be, music in heaven.