catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 2, Num 8 :: 2003.04.11 — 2003.04.24


Gifts of music

The following article is a "Coffee Talk" that was given by David
Recher at Spirit Rhythms, an evening of music, fellowship and
reflection. Spirit Rhythms events are a monthly ministry of St. John's
Lutheran Church, Three Rivers, Michigan.

Spirit Rhythms is a way to share and to celebrate the gift of music.
What a joy it is to be sharing it with you, and to have these wonderful
people sharing their musical gifts with us.

I have a deep and abiding love for music, and I consider that to be
a gift in itself. I've also been given a voice to sing with and ears
that allow me to stay on pitch most of the time. Those, I've learned,
are the sum of my ability to make music. All my life, though, I've received a wealth of musical gifts from those with a gift for creating them.

Three times in my life, I had the thrill of hearing the original Don
Cossack chorus led by Sergei Jaroff. Jaroff was a strutting "banty"
rooster of a man who stood a little over five feet with his Cossack
boots on. At symphony hall in Boston, I watched him stalk across the
stage at intermission time and tug on the stage door. It stuck; that
eight-foot door wouldn't yield to that five-foot giant. As he struggled
a second and a third time to open it, the men in the chorus began to
chuckle. The chuckle rose to a roar. Finally, a huge man in the bass
section, about seven feet in his boots, strolled over and
yanked open the door. There they stood, one looking up and the other
down. We in the audience loved it. We loved their music far more.

I've heard Charlie Barnett's band, Guy Lombardo's and Glenn
Miller's, heard the Chicago Symphony led by Sir Thomas Beecham, stamped
my feet to the sound of Charlie Acuff's fiddle and a host of
Appalachian and bluegrass artists at Norris, Tennessee. I have enjoyed
a wealth of musical blessings.

My tastes in music might not be yours, but I've been able to taste,
and enjoy, a large variety over the years. I can't name the source, but
someone once said, "I like what I know and I know what I like." In that
way, I can identify with another man who loved music, Samuel Langhorne
Clemens, the same Sam Clemens we know as Mark Twain. No one has ever
given us the measure of Sam's musical talent, but I do know he would
often play the piano as family and friends joined in songfests at the
Twains' home in Hartford. His youngest daughter, Clara, married a
brilliant concert pianist of the time, Ossip Gabrilovich. The music he
made and Sam heard must have been a source of comfort and relief from
the tragedy and grief of Sam's later years.

But, he knew what he liked, and he could express, with his wonderful
gift for language and humor, his feelings about the rest. One night,
after an opera he had attended, someone asked him what he thought of
the performance. Sam replied, "I haven't heard anything like that since
the orphanage burned down." On another occasion, he remarked, "Wagner's
music is better than it sounds."

We all know what we like. Some folks are blessed with more likes than others. I say blessed, because music is a gift
that can enrich our lives. Lutherans, those thoughtful people who are
thrilled to share this musical evening with you, have known this and
have celebrated with music since our beginnings some 480 years ago.
We've been known as "the singing church."

Martin Luther, after whom Lutherans are called, was no plaster
saint, frozen forever in a state of piety. He enjoyed life. He could
also be stubborn and opinionated, but not about music. Lutheran music developed and flourished within the secular
musical culture of the time. Luther, somewhat of a musician himself,
borrowed from a broad range of sources, including the beer hall. One of
our best-loved hymns, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," is set to the
tune of a tavern drinking song.

A slightly more musical fellow of whom you may have heard, one we
also like to claim as one of our own, is Johann Sebastian Bach. It's
been 273 years since he died, but his music is still influencing the
music of our own culture, even rock music. Bach felt much the same as
Luther did about music. Although much of his composition was devoted to
sacred music, he evidently didn't see any difference in principle
between sacred and secular music. Many of his sacred pieces were
adapted from secular pieces.

Bach always kept the goal of perfection up front, so maybe for him, and maybe for us, it's the quality
of the music that counts. I don't mean quality in terms of technical
perfection. The quality of music to my mind, "uncluttered" as it is by
a musical education, lies in its ability to hit people where the heart
is, to move them, to affect mood and emotion.

Could it be that we, who live in a far less religious culture than
Bach did, are coming back to that same idea, that there isn't any
difference between secular and sacred music? At any rate, we are now
living the beginnings of a new renaissance in music used in the
Christian Church, a new freedom in the use of musical expression. We're
using music from the culture that speaks to the culture.

Both Bach and Luther leave us another legacy in addition to their
musical gifts and their attitude toward music. It lies in their
willingness to see all music as a gift from God, and as a gift to
God. At the beginning of his sacred works Bach inscribed the letters
J.J. These stood for the Latin words, "Jesu, juva," or "Jesus, help."
At the end of the scores he wrote the letters, S.D.G. for "Sola Deo
Gloria:" "To God alone the glory." I understand that similar
inscriptions appear even on some secular pieces.

In seeing music as gift, Bach and Luther were acknowledging the giver. In short, their view of music was a gift in itself, a gift of their faith. And that is a gift that keeps on giving, an unending legacy.

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