Wednesday, January 26, 2011

music, soul, emotion

Tuesdays are long days, getting up at 4-ish to get down to the station, working, and then usually coming home to crash early, but I'd heard from a reliable source about some good medieval-ish music on Case's campus last night, and drove out that way to pick up some printing ink and crazy expensive yet beautifully luminous paint at the art supply store, met up with a friend for dinner at the usual place, and walked over to the beautiful chapel over there to sit in the darkness and listen to 12th century French choral music.

I almost fell asleep at certain points because soothing voices in a dark church are good for that kind of thing, but it was beautiful and interesting and it's intriguing to realize that our ancestors 800 years ago were just as snarky as we are and that political and clerical corruption are nothing new and that satirizing religious culture is probably almost as old as religion itself.

While I play several instruments a little better than decently, I'm still no good at attempting to write songs, and admire those who can put something together that's amazing.

I'm on a rotation of people who are in charge of doing music at church, and in all honesty I don't listen to much in the way of modern Christian music. I honestly just don't have the patience for it, as either the style is so strictly codified in its own way or it's trying to hard to sound like one of its usually superior secular counterparts. And half the time, it's just too damn perky and I'm not really a perky music person. I always assume there's some kind of dark secret hiding underneath that perfect smile.

When I read the translations of the writings of Hildegard of Bingen, when I listen to Bach or Arvo Part, there's a reverence, depth and a beauty there both lyrically and musically, with such detail paid to the composition of both, that is so far removed from that of my culture, where being happy and positive is often more important than dealing with real love and truth lived out.

When I listen to old gospel recordings by Blind Willie Johnson, or read the words of old spirituals in a hymnal one of my friends picked up for me at a place in East Cleveland that sells both gospel music and insecticide, there's a realism that says not everything in life is easy and fun but God is good and there's something more than what we see in front of us.

In Pakistan, believers have taken the entire book of Psalms (which is gorgeous writing in its own right) and sing them in traditional forms like qawwali, a style with Sufi roots made famous here in the west by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

Having been a lifelong literature geek, I love words that are strung together beautifully, and I can't bring myself to sing things that don't mean much or are repeated mindlessly. I know not everyone can write like Julian of Norwich, T.S. Eliot, or Gerard Manley Hopkins or necessarily have the skills to compose something amazing. I know I can't like I'd like to. Having played music in one form or another for about half my life, I love the way it moves me, but I also know that it's manipulative.

While I never liked mumbling through the songs at Mass when I was still Catholic, I was just as squeamish in more charismatic congregations that some of my friends went to where the same song would go on for fifteen minutes and I'd look up and people would be passed out on the floor or just kind of dancing around and would start praying for me because obviously I wasn't letting the Holy Spirit move me like I should.

I try to take the whole loving God with one's heart, soul, mind, and strength, and when I feel like it's suggested that I check my mind in at the door and just let the emotion carry me along, I don't see where that's a good place to be, because how truthful are emotions half the time? Just because I feel something, doesn't always mean it's the truth.

No comments: