Into the Mystic: Music Hath Charms

Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast.

So wrote the British poet and playwright William Congreve in his 1697 play The Mourning Bride.

To quote him more fully, and to further make the point, let me add the following lines:

“Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast; to soften rocks or bend a knotted oak. I’ve read that things inanimate have moved, and, as with living souls, have been informed, by magic numbers and persuasive sound.”

That is a lovely way to express the power of music to move us, to shape us, to melt us, to transport us.

I cannot remember a time in my life when music has been absent from it. Whether listening to Frank Sinatra in the car, Mario Lanza on my Dad’s turntable, the choir in mass, or the organ at the ball park there was always a soundtrack playing. I still have music playing when I work in the office, write something, read a book, or – best of all – when on a long drive with the windows open and the breeze blowing through.

I cannot remember a time in my life when music has not been transcendent.

I cannot remember a time in my life when music has done something less than inspire, motivate, transform, or move me.

I have often argued that good worship is nothing more than creative souls finding ways to place the worshiper in a space where there will be an authentic encounter with the sacred.

Often, the music in the worship experience is the most transformative moment – actually transforming the space into a place where that authentic moment with the sacred is most deeply felt.

I remember singing with my high school choir Bach’s “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” from the choir loft of the Old Cathedral in St. Louis and hearing the sound reverberate off the walls.

I remember crying through the first hearing of a Hymn called “Bring Many Names.”

I remember the first time I saw the Phantom of the Opera at the Fox Theater in St. Louis, the organ lifting out of the orchestra pit and playing that opening, dissonant chord and chills running down my spine.

I will never forget the magical night at Chautauqua last summer when I sat through a live performance of Beethoven’s 5th symphony, those first four notes perhaps the most transcendent ones ever written.

I remember the night on the youth trip when I was falling asleep listening to a CD my wife gave me as we left and hearing the Irish tenor voice of Van Morrison singing my favorite Hymn of all time, “Be Thou My Vision.”

I remember listening for the first time to a piece of music my son had composed.

There are so many more moments when the sounds of music soothed my own savage breast, softened the rock in my heart, or bent the knotted muscles of my stiff neck.

I give God thanks for the beauty resplendent in it all.

May the soundtrack of your own choosing bring you comfort, inspire and transform you on this, your journey into the mystic.

Categories: Column Into the Mystic

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