Musicking…

The “dog-days” of summer are taking a toll on my productivity right now;  starting up any projects in these two weeks between Spain and my next travels has proved, well, impossible.  But I have started working my way through a new book:  Resounding Truth:  Christian Wisdom in the World of Music, by Jeremy S. Begbie (Duke Divinity).

My earlier favorite, Music and Theology, had a lot of references to Dr. Begbie’s work, so I thought I would read some of his writing myself.  The two books couldn’t be more different — Dr. Begbie’s writing is, so far, speaking mostly to my more left brain, academic side, but is fascinating nonetheless. 

Admittedly, I am still in the introductory chapters, but Dr. Begbie clearly has great skill at clear definition.   And, it is a few of those definitions I want to share today.  First, is his definition of theology:  Dr. Begbie defines theology as “the disciplined thinking and rethinking of the Christian gospel for the sake of fostering a wisdom that is nourished by, and nourishes, the church in its worship and mission to the world. (p. 19)”

Funny, you know, we all throw that word “theology” around with such ease–we are so sure that we know what it means, after all, I studied Greek , I’ve read my fair share of “theological” texts.  But I have to admit that, if someone had asked me to define really what it means in this world today, I could not have come up with something simultaneously so succinct and so rich.  With Dr. Begbie’s definition, I see that theology is indeed the living embodiment of Romans 12:1-2.  Theology is active, it is alive, it is transformative, it is the breath of faith.  It is an action, not a “thing”.

And so it is with music.  The music educator Christopher Small, in fact, proposes that we speak of “musicking” instead of “music” (unless of course, we are composers and our outcome is the work itself, the music).  This proposal goes against much of today’s music education in our schools and conservatories — as young musicians we are taught that “the work” is sacred; we are taught to dissect it’s structure, it’s meaning it’s….everything.   But music is really and essential a set of actions:  the act of making music, the act of listening and yes, you composers, even the act of creating the ordered sounds and patterns that we label and recognize as music.

If you are not a trained musician, it may not be instantly clear to you how radical these concepts are…but they are.  Centuries of philosophical argumentation about the primacy of sound over text, the role of the composer, the primacy of the conductor over the stage director (or vice versa)….all of these are changed by the realization that we are musicking…not making music.

I have long held the belief that theology, being word-based, was a faith-art created to engage the mind, and that music, which, for me is not an art of the intellect (although I know that for many of my fellow musicians, it is) but an art of the spirit and of the body.  So for me, the combination of theology and music invokes the total Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit (a Trinity, that, in my world view, parallels our human “trinity” of mind, body, and spirit). 

And both exist as actions in this world, not as things to be studied.

Musicking….yes, definitely.  But theologicking?  Hmmm….

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