I apologize to anyone who might have been paying attention to this blog before March of 2016. I've been very focused on life and work in my local setting and not really having the motivation to reflect on-line. I did start writing a couple of times since then, and those drafts are still waiting to be published, but I'm hoping today marks a return to fairly regular blogging about music and life and faith.
A fun privilege of mine as a department chair at a Christian university is that I get to introduce many of our department's concerts and I can do so with prayers.
I find the activities of reading and creating musical prayers to have great potential for integrating faith and musical work since prayer is a means of expressing spirituality. By "spirituality" I mean the personal ways in which we live out our faith on a daily basis.
I read this excerpt from St. Augustine's "Exposition on Psalm 149" as a prayerful meditation before a recent string ensemble concert. I think I first became aware of this passage while auditing a course on Christian mysticism taught by Stephen Brachlow at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. The text has always struck me as profoundly meaningful.
Let them praise His Name in chorusPsalm 149:3. What means
chorus? Many know what a
chorusis: nay, as we are speaking in a town, almost all know. A
chorusis the union of singers. If we sing
in chorus,let us sing in concord. If any one's voice is out of harmony in a chorus of singers, it offends the ear, and throwes the chorus into confusion. If the voice of one echoing discordantly troubles the harmony of them who sing, how does the discord of heresy throw into confusion the harmony of them who praise. The whole world is now the chorus of Christ. The chorus of Christ sounds harmoniously from east to west.
Let them sing a psalm unto Him with timbrel and psaltery.Wherefore takes he to him the
timbrel and psaltery? That not the voice alone may praise, but the works too. When timbrel and psaltery are taken, the hands harmonize with the voice. So too do thou, whenever you sing,
Halleluia,deal forth your bread to the hungry, clothe the naked, take in the stranger: then does not only your voice sound, but your hand sounds in harmony with it, for your deeds agree with your words. You have taken to you an instrument, and your fingers agree with your tongue. Nor must we keep back the mystical meaning of the
timbrel and psaltery.On the timbrel leather is stretched, on the psaltery gut is stretched; on either instrument the flesh is crucified. How well did he
sing a psalm on timbrel and psaltery,who said,
the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world? Galatians 6:14 This psaltery or timbrel He wishes you to take up, who loves a new song, who teaches you, saying to you,
Whosoever wills to be My disciple, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.Matthew 16:24 Let him not set down his psaltery, let him not set down his timbrel, let him stretch himself out on the wood, and be dried from the lust of the flesh. The more the strings are stretched, the more sharply do they sound. The Apostle Paul then, in order that his psaltery might sound sharply, what said he?
Stretching forth unto those things which are before,etc. Philippians 3:13 He stretched himself: Christ touched him; and the sweetness of truth sounded.
This next prayer by Emily Schmalz, a University of Richmond alumna who was in my first Music Theory IV class, is a favorite of mine this time of year:
You have created my heart to love harmony,
to melt when two or three voices sing, in perfect tune, praises to You.
I love how we sing in harmony as I spend time with You in prayer
and I can hear Your gentle, soothing voice of faithful love and care.
Thank You for the exhilarating anticipation that accompanies every dissonance
and carries with it the promise of a glorious return to sweet harmony.
Thank You for my ear to hear and my voice to create both melody and harmony.
Thank You for the peace I feel
when I am walking in Your will and our wills are in harmonious accordance.
Thank You for the times of dissonance, too,
for though they are often times of pain and trial and molding of my heart,
you always work all things together for good
—no dissonance is left unresolved—
You faithfully resolve each and every chord in my life.
And thank You, most of all, God, for sending Christ,
the great Resolver of the dissonance of this fallen world
into the perfect harmony of friendship and right standing with You.
And last night, I prayed something along these lines to frame our evening's musical theater revue.
You imagined the universe.
You imagined our world.
You imagined each of us.
And you made us in your image.
We are imaginative.
We are image natives.
We are most at home in your image.
We thank you for the imaginative engagement of theater.
The composer imagines.
The director imagines.
The performer imagines.
The viewer imagines.
Through this shared imagining,
please teach us things you want us to know about life.