This article first appeared in the January 2016 issue of our parish magazine.
A quote often attributed to St Francis of Assisi is that we should endeavour to “Preach the gospel at all times…use words if you must”. I myself have found that quite often, words are superfluous to finding spiritual meaning in music.
A couple of years ago a work colleague found out that I know a bit about classical music, and asked me to help and guide his exploration of the genre. A typical IT nerd (he knows I call him that), he wanted to know the technicalities of the structure of pieces, and what he should proactively listen out for. My advice to him was to close his eyes and let the message of the music find him. I know he struggled with that, but it is my advice to anyone seeking to appreciate or discover anything through music: open your soul and let it find you.
Back when I was a year 6 teacher, each summer I used to ask the class to paint some music. I put out palettes of paint and played them “Neptune” from Holst’s Planets Suite. Without exception, they chose blues and greens, and painted with light swirly strokes. With fresh paper and the same palette of paints I then played “Mars”. All the children chose reds, oranges and black. They stabbed at the paper with heavy movements. I did this every year for 5 years, and of the 150+ children that did the activity, only 1 was utterly unable to hear the music and paint it. She painted a house instead.
Try it yourself! Have a listen to Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending”. Close your eyes and imagine the bird soaring on thermals. It’s really not a great leap from visualising an actual lark to seeing the Holy Spirit in dove form going where she chooses.
One of the nicest things ever said to me was after a Healing service in the spring of 2014. I had played Rachmaninov’s “Vocalise” on my violin during communion, and it was the first time that I remember relaxing (well, almost relaxing) whilst playing in public. One of the healing team told me afterwards that although she hadn’t actually been able to listen to the music, she had absolutely heard it, and found it had helped her along with her ministry. Definitely the work of the Holy Spirit.
A few years ago, Jennifer and I took part in a “Music in Ministry” day at Armitage Bridge. The whole day was spent singing and playing music for worship in large and small groups, and finished with a service in which everything we had worked on through the day was offered in worship. It was incredibly moving. Later, I was utterly taken aback to receive a thank you card from the priest there wishing me well in my own music ministry. I was actually a little alarmed. Me? Ministry? I looked it up: “ministry” is to serve; to be instrumental to others. I was humbled to be thought of in such a way.
If you have paints handy, have a go at painting any – or all – of these pieces of music.
Here are YouTube links to:
Lark Ascending http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZR2JlDnT2l8