My high school English Lit teacher was a lanky fellow, who walked slightly stooped, and with strides that seemed just a little too long, like he was constantly rushing without wanting to do the work of running. He was in his mid-twenties, and it was the first time that I realized that some of my teachers really weren’t much older than I. His classes had an air of sophistication in my mind, like what I imagined university classes might be like. Most of my university classes, in fact, were quite pedestrian in comparison. We began most English Lit classes with the fluorescent lights off, our heads on our desks, listening to classical music. The melodies of Bach, Mozart, and Liszt smoothed away the discord of high school for ten whole minutes. The arrangements of notes were true, the way mathematic equations are true, and if I closed my eyes, I was carried away from everything. My mind stopped analyzing the minutiae of every interaction of the day, and everything was still.
He was an outstanding teacher, caring about his students and passionate about literature, but he tended to reveal too much of his private life to us, a gaggle of teenagers, mostly girls, who would giggle incredulously over lunch at his latest revelations. Looking back, I have to chuckle about the things we found scandalous. After one operatic number, he sighed deeply and wistfully declared that he hoped his future wife would sing arias as they snuggled in bed. Clearly, my attempts to scrub away that scene from my mind were unsuccessful. He did, however, say at least one other thing that implanted itself into the walls of my subconscious. “What if this music was divinely inspired?” he asked.
If we believe that the scriptures were written by human hands but inspired by the Creator, could it not also be possible that some musical pieces are divinely inspired? Surely all of our talents find their source in the One who made us, but is it possible that some pieces of music or other forms of art transcend the regular miracle of creation and are actually sacred? I don’t know, but Handel’s Messiah leaves me wrecked every time I listen to it, especially this version performed by a flash mob at the mall. Perhaps it is the unexpected injection of the sacred into the mundane, a masterpiece in the food court, that makes me believe. I've watched this video so many times and it still makes me weep and laugh at the same time, which is really attractive. My poor husband.
My parents valued music enough to spend part of their single income on piano lessons for my sisters and I when we were young, something for which I am now much more appreciative than when I was rising at dawn every morning to practice scales and arpeggios. I fear that I just may have been obnoxiously ungrateful.
Aside from the early rising component, I actually enjoyed the piano and regret giving it up. I discovered that I had a good ear for music quite early; I could hear and name any note played. This proved to be a blessing and a curse. I remember shifting away from one of my Pioneer Girls (like Brownies for church kids) leaders during singing time every week as she always sang gloriously off key, and, while I had the ability to hear perfect pitch, I certainly didn’t have the ability to produce perfect pitch myself. Unfortunately, you can’t shift away from your own voice. I used to cringe at our extended family birthday celebrations when we sung “Happy Birthday” in about 7 different keys simultaneously. At this point in my life though, I’m just thankful to see my extended family when it happens once in a blue moon, and what was once dissonance in my ears is now warmth in my heart.
I am word junkie, but there are times when words fail me, and music intercedes. It infuses consolation into our souls in times of grief, and gives form to jubilation in joy. It can arrest anger, and move us to compassion. Music can move a harried mind into a place of quiet contemplation. It can move us in ways that we can't seem to understand or resist.