Friday, September 24, 2010

considering music and spirituality

I'll be leading a class on music and spirituality starting next month, so that's been getting me thinking about what it actually means.

I guess the questions to begin asking are:

How does music help define our spirituality?
How is music impacted by spirituality?
How can we use music to develop spirituality in congregations?
And most importantly, in the context of music, what is spirituality?

I recently heard a story from a Story Corps producer about an experience she had while doing an interview. And while she didn't speak specifically of this as something spiritual, it was hard not to feel it when she told the story.

One of her interviews brought her into contact with a 30 year old woman and her parents.  This woman was in hospice care suffering from terminal cancer and spent much of the 40 minute interview saying goodbye to her parents.  Toward the end of the interview, the producer said to the women that they had two minutes left in which she could record her personality for posterity.   To the producer's shock, the woman didn't tell a story or say anymore farewells.  Instead, she started singing "Summertime" from George Gershwin's opera "Porgy and Bess."

The producer remarked that for the first 38 minutes, she sounded weak and frail, like a dying person, but for those last two minutes, her voice was strong and she sounded fully alive. Later the woman's parents would contact this producer again to tell her that their daughter had indeed passed away.  The used the recording of those two minutes of their daughter singing during her funeral service, and thanked the producer for drawing this out.

I was struck by the impact of this story.  So many times Story Corps has done this to me, but the idea of this young woman using her last recorded moments to express herself through song hit me even harder.  When simple words where not enough, she turned to music and the power of song which released her spirit in a way all the goodbyes in the world couldn't.

Friday, September 17, 2010

God's Grandeur

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89). Poems. 1918.

God’s Grandeur

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;                            5
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;                 10
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Monday, September 13, 2010

worship renewal: what's the purpose of special music?

We're currently discussing the idea of "worship renewal" at our church.  I think in the few sessions we've had, this has already led to some wonderful revelations about the purpose of worship and how/when we experience it.

In our latest meeting, the topic of "special music" came up, specifically in regards to music that is presented that isn't serving any sort of liturgical or even transitional purpose.  In most churches this manifests itself as the "anthem" or "special music" or something along those lines.  The music is played/sung while the rest of the congregation listens (or not).

This is different from, say, the offertory (the music fills the space of time it takes to collect the offering) or the prelude/postlude (people are entering/leaving or transitioning into/out of worship during the music.)

So what is the purpose of this music?   Does it give us time to reflect like the reading of scripture?  Does it expand our thinking about God like a sermon?  Does it lead us to meditation like prayer?   I don't have the answer, but I feel that what it often does is put the service on hold.

There are times when this special music ties in so well with the theme, scripture, sermon,  or prayer that it seems to flow naturally as part of the service.  But I would say that a good portion of the time it seems tacked on.  It's simply there because, "that's where we always have the anthem" or "we need a second piece of music to fill the service."

What we discussed was trying to discover ways that this time can lead to active participation as well, for those who want it.  Perhaps this is a time where we invite the congregation to consider their contribution to the church's mission during the week.  Or maybe we have some sort of ritual (remembering baptism through water, lighting a candle for a loved one, etc.) and the music then provides a accompaniment to that action.

I'll post some results once we give it a try.