I have learned in all this that music is powerful beyond words, and often does what words alone can never do. I have often heard or read a Scripture, which may have had only marginal impact on me. And then the choir takes it up in song and it is pressed on my heart like never before, such that I can never forget it.
I have also learned with humility that I may preach boldly, but that it is often the choir’s sung response that makes the thought catch fire. I have learned to link what I preach to what is sung and work carefully with the choir and musicians. For while the spoken word my inform and even energize, the sung word strikes even deeper, engraving the word not only in the mind, but touching the deepest parts of the heart.
Music can often go where the word alone cannot. Beauty draw us to goodness and truth.
In my parish tonight our choir had its annual concert. 900+ in attendance, standing room only. There was a 20 piece orchestra and music that ranged from classical to Gospel, all religious in nature.
In tonight’s praise-filled concert, the congregation spent as much time on its feet in praise as seated and listening. Twice, they would not let the choir stop, and the refrain had to be taken up on both occasions, three times before the Spirit said, “It is well.” No one could leave Church tonight without the words and melodies of those songs alive: Great is thy faithfulness Oh God my Father….A change, A change has come over me….For every mountain you brought me over, for every trial, you’ve seen me though….I’ve got to say Thank you Lord!
In the concert a song was sung that, to some extent helps to illustrate how music can go where words cannot. The song stretches back to a scene in the movie, The Mission.
The scene is of a 17th Century Jesuit missionary priest, Father Gabriel, who goes deep into the rain forest seeking to win souls for Christ. He has heard that the indigenous people living there, though hostile to strangers, have a wonderful gift for music. Arriving near a settlement, he is aware that suspicious and fierce warriors lurking among the trees, likely intent on killing him, surround him. But Fr. Gabriel takes out his oboe and begins to play the melody that was the theme for the movie.I have included the scene in a video below.
As he plays the beautiful melody, the men emerge from the trees and begin to listen, now aware that no man who means them harm could play such a beautiful melody.
It is all a perfect illustration of the ancient insight that the beauty is powerfully related to truth and goodness. So Fr. Gabriel opened the door to truth by the beauty of music. And where his words would likely have had no impact, or be met with hostility, the beauty of the melody he played made most of them drop their weapons and open the door to him. Now they were ready to hear his words. But it was music, it was beauty, that opened the way.
In recent years the beautiful melody played by “Fr Gabriel” has been set to words and is now sung to new audiences who never saw the now old movie. The song in Italian is called Nella Fantasia and a quick summary of the translation is:
I my dream I see a place where all live in peace and in truth, and souls are always free, and fully human in the depth of their hearts.
Tonight in our concert the choir sing this beautiful piece, and I thought how, once a gain, it wasn’t just the words that had impact, it was the magnificent beauty of the melody. And, somehow the vision of the words was alive if, but for a moment, and the Kingdom of God shown through: that place of peace, truth, freedom and the human person fully alive.
Through beauty the vision, good and true, was shared in the depths of every soul present at the concert. For, in the end it is not a dream, it is the reality of the Kingdom of Heaven. The words may speak of a distant future, but the beauty of the music made it present now. Yes, the goodness and truth of the Kingdom were now, if but for a moment, expressed in the beauty of music and deepening the the commitment to follow the beauty, to goodness and truth.
Perhaps it was Fr. Gabriel playing his oboe all over again to us, hostile denizens of a cynical and jaded 21st Century. But the melody by its beauty rings true. And the beauty points to the truth and goodness of the vision and opens doors to the heart that mere words could never do. The cynical mind tell us it will never happen, but beauty tells us it will, and that it already does, for true beauty echoes from haeven.
And in a hushed Church, a word went forth, preceded by beauty, and for just a moment a dream, good and true, echoed in many hearts: In my dream I see a place where all live in peace and in truth, and souls are always free, and fully human in the depth of their hearts.
Music is powerful beyond words.
Here is the original scene from The Mission where Fr. Gabriel reaches the people through beauty (all but one).
And here is a version of the song based on the melody of Gabriel’s oboe. I regret I don’t have a recording of it by my own choir to share with you, but this video captures the beauty. Again the Words are in Italian and the basic translation is I my dream I see a place where all live in peace and in truth, and souls are always free, and fully human in the depth of their hearts