Rest

A friend of mine who was a very gifted singer and musician passed away quite suddenly a day ago in a motorcycle accident. This poem is for him.

Though the melody stops suddenly,
Brought a grief to me,
The only way to rejoin the song
Is to count the measures of rest.
Against God, who will protest?
The Singer of all right will not sing wrong.
Those who would find harmony
Must bow their knee;
No suspension remains unresolved.
Although our own resolve might fail
Our voices weak, and bruised reeds be frail,
A tear is not a sin, and grief’s absolved.

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A Paraphrase of Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale

I am sad at heart, and numb to the world,
Like Socrates who drank hemlock,
Or as if I drank laudanum (like Coleridge)
Recently, and sank into forgetfulness:
Not because I envy you,
But because I am too happy for you,
That you, nightingale of the forest,
In some beautiful copse
Of shadowy beeches
Sing carelessly of summer.

Oh for a taste of really well-aged wine, that has been
Stored and cooled in deep earthen cellar,
Tasting of the Goddess of Spring, and greenery,
And dance, and folk tunes, and a hot day at the fair!
Oh, I wish I had some southern wine in a glass,
The good stuff, dark crimson, Continue reading

Glory Too Fast

Here is a recording I came across yesterday.
Listening to it was one of the few things that have left me speechless in my life.

Once you have listened to a few minutes of it, allow me to explain why I was speechless.
The modern paradigm of evolution has, by and large, attempted to rob us of any concept of objective beauty. If the world and all that is in it is not in some way a guided thing, if it developed on its own, then one would expect to see many fundamental, deep, and unsurpassable divides between species. There would be a fundamental incompatibility between the multitude of branching paths,just like technology of different generations.

This proves it wrong.

The crickets are singing in several octaves, but the scale they are using is the exact (and I mean perfectly) same eight-tone scale that Bach, Beethoven, Schutz, Mozart, Handel, Praetorius, Josquin de Prez, and any other classic composer used. Apart from accidentals (halfway points between pitches) the crickets are using our good old, Sound of Music do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do. It is a musical system of harmonic sounds that function together naturally: the world of sound is built so that these sounds actually belong together and work, just as certainly as a biochemical reaction or gravity. It’s built into the world.

How is this overlap between crickets and humans even possible? It’s a sound too fast for our ears to hear. It wasn’t our sound. Why should we expect to find it appealing, on an evolutionary framework? There’s simply no way for it to benefit us, or for us even to be aware of its existence.

But when we find it, it is like finding a painting on a rock in the middle of a forest. Someone left it there. It was supposed to be beautiful, and it was placed there intentionally, for us to find. Pure gift. It is as astonishing as the footprint in the sand was to Robinson Crusoe. We thought we were alone, and look: someone has been here the whole time.

Not only this, but the way it was found implies an even more organic connection between crickets and humans. Not only does the sound sound beautiful to both, but it becomes beautiful to us only when adjusted to match our lifespan. We didn’t just slow it down until it sounded good: there was a mathematical operation that occurred and it resulted in beauty. In logical form, it looks like this: [cricket music:cricket lifespan :: Human lifespan: ???]. There is a fundamental proportionality here, a concept that resonates far more with a medieval perspective on life than with our modern one. For the medievals, the world was structured according to proportions, mathematical regularity, and the world was a dance. The planetary spheres made music to the Lord. Everything was organized and that organization produced beauty and music. For them, these crickets would fit right in. For us, it is a sledgehammer to the brittle concrete of skepticism and reductionistic materialism. Both crickets and humans were made by the same God, a God who is beautiful. And that is why the crickets sound like choirs. Because they know to sing God’s praise. It was glory too fast for us, but we caught up. Our ears are tuned now a little better to hear those praises, and we must, if we value our humanity, learn to join in.

Listen.
And sing.

Psalm 148 (Free Verse)

Praise the Lord from the heavens
Be cosmic bread, leaven of glory,
All seven spheres tune ears to hear what the moon and sun
Have begun to sing in the star-deep sea of the sky.
Let firmaments, assured of enduring,
Remember the commands and decrees
Of the Lord who ceded them their high boundary.
And then tip-top over, to the downward plunge,
Back to the sea, that roaring mirror of the skies,
Leviathan, still unhooked, bows his heads with their fiery eyes;
All, to the last glittering drop of minnow, those flashing haiku,
Sing of a king.
Weather storms and dashes out the dance meter,
Vaulted clouds pour out, roar out
The praise of hail and sled-snow and chain-lightning
And the fire’s glow.
Earth, green womb, mankind’s tomb, takes up the chorus
Among the harvest,
And in the forest, smallest to largest,
From the oaks to the apples, from cricket to cattle,
Dappled birds winging, singing,
Cry to the king,
Men and their armies, judges, rulers, wise men, prodigals, fools,
Lovers in harmony bow the knee
Only to the Lord.
Glorious is He!
Exalting his horn, night to dawn,
Saints who praise, beloved of him, bosom-close, bounty-laden, all!
Remember, then render
Praise.

After Rehearsal

Gleam-black beetles crinkle over the night-sidewalk
Seeking my brown shoes for shelter
From the orange light-throb.
The night is a sound-slate, black with silence
Ready to be filled with psalms
And the joy of sheer isness.
Measured step by purposed tread,
I wander home
Through fog and silent streets.
Echo claps back my shoebeat,
A pulse in the solitude.
I accompany myself.
Haydn rises to my beetle-audience.
I wonder if they hear me,
I wonder if later they will dance
As heaven’s music sinks into their tiny brains.

Commusic – Music with Other Folks: Quantity, Quality, and Questions

Recently I noticed something that I’ve taken for granted almost my entire life, along with most of my generation. The biggest things, the ones we assume as part of our existence, are the ones that become invisible, and music is no exception. Music, as it is today, exists in a new and different format from the way it has throughout most of history.

Music is in the hands of the masses. Without the necessity of an orchestra, or singers, or any sort of equipment besides an i-Pod, we can listen to music whenever we want. Think about it. Before music became portable, first in the shape of radio, then records, tapes, CDs, and mp3, we would have to gather at some spot with other music lovers of the same kind, and attend a performance or make the music ourselves. Either way, music was a community event. Now, it is entirely common to see coffee shops bursting at the seams with hipsters and their earphones, all on their own, listening to some new band nobody’s heard of.

***

Everyone’s on a private tap in this brown room, and buds are burrowed into their ears. It’s like drinking alone at a bar of many people. I feel the urge to splash my beverage over the crowd, really shock them with a good cold splash of Irish drinking songs, maybe start a jig on the big table. But everyone is drinking their music alone, silently noisy with themselves. I take a sip. Soon I too am staring at greasy counter on my faded oak-and-brass stool, watching the wood swim through the brown wash at the bottom of a glass of soundtracks. I am drunk with my story of one. It’s lonely in this fable. Maybe I’m just selfish. Maybe we all are. All I know is that we are alone together.

***

Part of the problem is scarcity. The more rare something is, the more people value it. When music was available only on special occasions, only rich people could afford it. But now that music is in everyone’s hands, we take it for granted, like water. It’s everywhere. It’s assumed. But if you take it away….

Now, a thought experiment.

Suppose you had a rock face on a cliff, and a chisel. You have your whole life to write something there. What are you going to write? Well, you can be darn sure it’ll be the most important, profound thing you’ve ever thought of. After all, it’ll be your life’s work.

The rarer something is, the more we pay attention to it. If we could hear music once a week, we wouldn’t waste that time listening to Friday by Rebecca Black. We would want something important, something meaningful. So here’s a question. Does the quantity of music available to us affect the quality of music we listen to?

This is why the old question “If you were on a desert island, which 5 ___ would you take?” is so effective. It limits the availability of something, and then asks us to really assess what we value most of all.

And there are more. When exactly did music in community get trashed? Is it a product of individualism? Did new, portable technology shape our music? Did lower-quality music make it less worth-while to sing with other people? I don’t have all the answers. But I do have some questions that it may be worthwhile to ponder.

Do you have music you could sing with someone?

Would you feel comfortable singing with other people?

If not, why?

Is all music lessened when you listen to it on your own?

If not all, which kinds?

Do you value music less because it’s so easy to access?

 

(If you’re a Christian as I am, a few more questions.)

Does singing with your church congregation have more meaning than other music, because you’re singing in community?

If you don’t think so, why doesn’t singing in community feel any different? Are you missing something?

What do the Psalms have to say about singing together?

What would Christ have to say about singing together?

 

If these questions interest you, or you want to discuss these issues, feel free to leave a comment, and we can talk.

Storm Song

Music murmurs, glowing brightly,

Sound and time entwined together.

Subtle rhythms, woven tightly,

Drop like rain from stormy weather.

Cymbals clash and lightning flashes,

Thunder drums eternal chorus,

Wind with water howls and lashes,

Deeps of ocean tossed before us.

Great symphonic storm arisen,

Far beyond our music’s failing,

Breaking down our silent prison,

Smashed by this harmonic hailing.

Cleansed and washed with stormy singing,

Skies will brighten, hearts be lifted,

Noble themes of hope are ringing,

Nature’s music, glory gifted.