Does it sometimes seem that the more ways we have to communicate – email, texting, Twitter, and even actual conversation – the less we actually say? The more confused we are about what is being said? Too often it really is true that less is more. Simple sentences like “I’m sorry” and “Sit with me” are enough. And more often than not it is the wordless communications that say all that really needs to be said. Gestures of friendship, acts of kindness, listening, showing up.
One thing I do love about my work, though, is thinking about the texts we sing in hymns and anthems. There are texts that have opened my eyes to the power of poetry, and words that caused me to think more reflectively on Biblical passages and writings of ancient wisdom. I know that words are important, but sometimes they are really just a vehicle for more persuasive music, because music is its own language of course. It has dialects of tonalities, rhythms and instrumental colors that spring from different cultures and sometimes seem strange to foreign ears. But essential messages of peace, despair, joy, worship, fear, love – those basic human emotions – are nearly always obvious, whether you understand the musical dialect or not. During the past season of Arts@Midday concerts here at St. Alban’s we experienced the serene messages of a koto player and the frenzied joy of a Latin American percussionist. We heard light in sung Alleluias and the darkness of a troubled mind in expressionist opera. At the heart of any of these musical experiences were simple messages of the human experience.
I came across a piece based on an Indian raga – one of the complex (to our Western ears) patterns of rhythm and pitch that are the basis of traditional music in India. Dwijivanthi has no actual words, but has the choir speaking and singing the syllables that Indian musicians learn – something like do, re, mi. The recording I found online of it brought me to tears the first time I heard it, as I witnessed what I experienced as the pure joy of making music by an American high school choir in a beautiful example of cross-cultural communication. Enjoy it here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xUre_jHOGHw
and on Sunday when a choir at St. Alban’s sings this for the Pentecost service at 10:00. Music – one language for the family of God. No words needed.