Saturday, January 20, 2007

Bonus Gift from God

I once remarked to a choir under my direction, "Music is a free gift from God," meaning that there is no clear purpose for it, except that it is beautiful, sublime. I did this, by the way, while in the employ of a secular university, and realized my blunder seconds after it slipped out, but I couldn't restrain myself.

The thought came to me again this week during a choir practice here at the monastery. I was explaining the idea of the octave to a brother who has trouble hearing it. The beauty of the octave, in the example I gave, is that men and women can sing different notes (technically pitches) and still sing the same tune. How could God not have wanted to sing after He went through the trouble to set up this coincidence? There is no particular physical reason why women's voices are naturally almost exactly an octave higher than men's. Even better: how does it work out that high and low men's and women's voices make up exactly four parts and this is exactly what you need to make harmonic music work? Can all this be the product of blind chance driven by natural selection, as Richard Dawkins would insist? Pardon me for putting it this way, but that would be a real miracle! Which is to say, on this score, evolution doesn't strike me as scientific.

Music touches on so many aspects of life: it is embodied, yet it can be terrifically cerebral, like a Bach fugue or a Beethoven string quartet. It exists in time and so mimics drama and narrative. However, it also mimics space (especially high and low) and can be likened to a painting. It inspires dance and is like motion. Words escape me in describing music.

How have we come to dignify with the name 'music' the stuff that blares from today's radios and iPods?


The Archer of the Forest said...

I heartily agree. I think music in the West, especially in the secular pop scene is in complete free fall. When I was in England a few months back, the stuff that was passing for music in the British Disco scene completely baffled me. It is not much better over here in the States.

Does anyone really think there will be oldies stations in 20 years playing stuff from the 90's and '00s? Who will want to listen to repeats of Britney Spears and the Boy Bands?

Scott said...

I was going to correct you about music blaring from iPods, as iPods are specifically designed not to blare but to deliver music to one's own ears...but then I remembered all the times recently when I've encountered people on public transit blasting their iPods so loudly that (in one case) the music was hurting *my* ears...from an iPod's headphones on someone else's head, five feet away. Probably turned up to "kill the subway noise." Lord, give me strength!


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