Sacred, sacral, secular…transcendant: Day 16

Back to more serious topics…music as mission and just what music to sing, at least, for me to sing.

When I was in Berlin in 2008, I happened to be there for the 70th remembrance (anniversary seems just not the rightword here) of Kristellnacht.  The city was full of concerts, prayer services, and politicians, all scrambling to be appropriately reverant in their remembrance.  What I remember most is that if there was one performance of Mozart’s Requiem, there were 20.  I still find it so interesting that it was the Mozart Requiem that was the music of choice, when there are so many beautiful requiems to perform.  But Mozart was the choice of the day.

Concert hall, Berlin

And I had long wanted attend a concert at the beatiful Konzerthaus on the Gendarmenmarkt and so I purchased a ticket to one of these many Requiems, not knowing anything about the group or the soloists that were about to perform.  I was not disappointed — it was a lovely, moving afternoon of music on a cold, dark, north German day.

I remember the day, I remember the event, I remember the weather, I even remember the wonderful soup that I had at the cafe across the street afterwards…but what I remember most of all is the reason why that chorus existed and why they were there on that stage that afternoon.

The sole reason that chorus had been formed, the reason they toured Germany singing and consertizing, was:  to present the great sacred works in secular settings, so that all might hear them (even those afraid to go into a church).

So many things about that trip to Berlin can be tied to the beginnings of this current leg of my journey of faith, but this is certainly one of the most important.  This has been the driving question for me these many past months:  how can I bring the sacred into the secular arena through music, and how can I use my ability to to stradle both worlds to help relieve the fear of “church” which so dominates our society.  How can I help people see, through music, that the community of faith can be a welcoming, nurturing, safe place that they can visit without fear, and, oh by the way, they might have a chance to make or hear some pretty fine music if they do.

That’s a tall order for one singer and a page with some dots on it, but here we are.

So, here we are, back with Dr. Saliers and his book Music and Theology I know that my class is over, but I do still have a paper to write and, well, I just can’t put the book away.    In the chapter, “Beyond ‘Sacred’ and ‘Secular'”, Dr.Saliers takes a run at these definitions which plague people who plan worship every week and particularly that plague those of us who are musicians.  His conclusion is the same as mine, that it is not so easy to draw a black and white distinction between the sacred and the secular.

The bottom line:  what we find “sacred” at any given moment, is cultural.  Some of us are still moved by Gregorian chant, a 600-year-old musical form, others are not.  But, as Saliers states:  “For surely it is still the case that what moves us most deeply (rather than merely entertains us) has both contemplative and prophetic powrs, and is visionary, carrying with it a ‘sense’ of life and world.  This is hinted at when music is heard so deeply that ‘you are the music while the music lasts’ to paraphrase T S. Eliot’s line. (pg. 59)”

Where does this leave me, in my quest to understand my call and my journey and the role of music in my life?   I’ll tell you — it leaves me with the quest for transcendance.    Again, Saliers:  “Perhaps we need much more to attnd to what can be called the ‘sacrality’ or even the ‘sacramentality’ of music wherever and whenever we are moved out of ourselves and our habitual, common-sense world.  this can occur when we cease to be intereted inmusic only for entrtainment or ‘background’ purposes, and begin to pay attenion to how music points toward the deep elemental facts of our existence. (p. 60)”.

That, dear readers, is transcendance.  I think that I might be able to do that, even when I am singing about throwing the baby in the fire (which I must do if I go back to singing Verdi’s opera, Il Trovatore) .  Wish me luck.

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