The gift of song

July 6, 2008 | Uncategorized | 10 comments

It is 11:58 on Saturday night and I am doing what has become one of my favorite things in the world: sitting in my living room while everyone else is asleep, watching the same three-minute clip on my television over and over again as I do some work.

The clip is from back in April, a recording of the of the National Basilica Choir singing Dum transisset Sabbatum for Pope Benedict’s Vespers service with the U.S. Bishops. It is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I have ever heard. And while I did purchase a copy of the song for my iPod, there’s something about seeing it performed that moves my soul on an even deeper level than hearing it alone.

When I hear the song pour through speakers and waft through the house, the harmonious voices floating through the air as if coming from angels, I feel thankful to God. But when I see it performed, when I can observe the different hair styles and physical features and facial expressions of the men and women performing it, I feel thankful to God, and I also feel incredibly thankful to my brothers and sisters in Christ who have come together to perform it.

I am not gifted musically. If I were to try to sing, someone would probably call 911 for fear that I’d sustained serious injury. So I am at the mercy of my fellow human beings when it comes to hearing beautiful music: if they do not give it to me, I will not have it. It’s a gift that God has given a select few, that the rest of us couldn’t purchase with any amount of money or effort.

It is interesting to consider the fruits of this system that God created when he gave each of us different talents: no one person can create all forms of beauty; if the human family is to experience the full range of beauty that is available to us, if our souls are to have the opportunity to listen to all the languages that God speaks through different forms of art, it will only be through the generosity of our fellow human beings. As with so many other ways that God moves in the world, the more we turn to and cooperate with one another, the more we will experience Him.

Of all the emotions I feel as I sit here in my living room late on a Saturday night, watching the familiar shot of the EWTN camera panning across the haunting Crypt Church and settling in on the group of blue-robed men and women, I mostly feel grateful. Grateful to God, and grateful to the people in this choir — and in choirs everywhere — who are generous enough to share the precious gift of song with the rest of us.

10 Comments

  1. Carrien

    Thank-you.

    As a former music major I often struggled with the question of why? What point or good was there in perfecting my art. It’s so ephemeral. Does it do any lasting good in an age of CDs and ipods to be a good performer? The world could only have 100 good musicians and thanks to modern technology everyone could have music, or so it seems. I would do better to learn 3rd world agriculture and really help people.

    It’s difficult not to scorn something that comes so naturally sometimes.

    I abandoned my music degree eventually, partly over these questions. And now in the throes of childrearing I don’t regret leaving it at all. Yet, this post has given me a perspective I hadn’t considered before and adds to the question I often ask. “Will I ever go back, or encourage my children to enter into the arts as a career?”

  2. SursumCorda

    [Singing is] a gift that God has given a select few, that the rest of us couldn’t purchase with any amount of money or effort. May I respectfully disagree? I believe God gives the gift of singing the way he gives the gift of running: there are a very few who truly can’t, but most of us are intended to sing, and sing well. Not at the Olympic athlete level, but well enough to give joy to ourselves, to others, and to him. What we lack, in these days of widely-available professional music, is practice. Good singing, like running, requires well-toned muscles and healthy respiration, and a little coaching does wonders. I love the exquisite music that only professionals or highly-trained amateurs can make, but I’ve seen sufficient evidence in my own life and that of others to believe that nearly all of us can make a beautiful, as well as a joyful, noise unto the Lord.

    P.S. I enjoy and appreciate your blog very much. Thank you for writing.

  3. Katie

    It is interesting to consider the fruits of this system that God created when he gave each of us different talents: no one person can create all forms of beauty; if the human family is to experience the full rage of beauty that is available to us, if our souls are to have the opportunity to listen to all the languages that God speaks through different forms of art, it will only be through the generosity of our fellow human beings. As with so many other ways that God moves in the world, the more we turn to and cooperate with one another, the more we will experience Him.

    Wow Jennifer! How profound, I’ve never thought of it that way.

  4. Sara

    Beautiful post! I love your story and your thoughts, especially when I consider where you came from and how recently you arrived.

    I think I’m inspired to do my own post on music, as soon as I go listen to that piece. But it won’t be as profound as yours.

  5. Jaime (ChaseNKids)

    You are wise, and when I start to feel sad about my husband’s spiritual life, I am reminded of your realistic faith. You are an inspiration.

    Thank-you for doing writing!

    ~Jaime
    http://www.ChaseNKids.com

  6. Susan Thompson

    My favorite song is Gloria a Te, Cristo Gesu as sung by Andrea Bocelli. I made a point of listening to it on the first day of the millenium to set the tone for the next thousand years! The words are beautiful, too. My CD is temporarily missing or I would add the English translation of the lyrics.

    Here’s a link

  7. Flexo

    Well, the Basilica choir’s website did not say whose Dum Transisset Sabbatum it was, but I found a copy of the Program (pdf), which says that it is John Taverner (there is a version with the Canticum Seoul Choir on YouTube).

    Shortly after The Funeral (JP2, of course), I went on a kick and bought a zillion chant/polyphony CDs. I guess I’m somewhat partial to women’s voices because my preference is for Anonymous 4 and Voices of Ascension. As for video, I have The Tallis Scholars: Live In Rome, which was recorded at the 1600-year-old Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of Palestrina’s death. Here is a clip of them singing Nunc Dimittis by Palestrina.

    It is all excellent, but the Miserere by Allegri especially so (sample).

  8. Anonymous

    I’ve often thought that the ability to compose, make, and appreciate music is evidence of God’s existence, since (in humans) it carries absolutely no evolutionary advantage. Listen to Biebel’s “Ave Maria” as sung by Chanticleer and tell me there’s no such thing as a soul…

    Monique in TX

  9. Patrick

    I know exactly what you mean! I have a similar song that simply relaxes me just by listening to it. I originally heard it in the movie The Shawshank Redemption when Tim Robbins (Andy) barricades himself inside the warden’s office and blasts a classical piece over the loudspeaker for a peaceful moment. I researched the song, and found it was Nulla in Mundo, Pax Sincera by Vivaldi (a priest, by the way!). I’ve since bought his entire sacred works, but Nulla is by far my favorite!

  10. Agnes Regina

    I'm a music major myself (piano performance, but I also study voice,) so thank you for this little essay. You hit the nail on the head. We are given this gift so that we may share it – be it on the concert stage, in a church choir, or just with our friends at home. I'm never happier than when I'm pouring out my heart (alone or with others) in the tenderness of a Chopin nocturne, or the thunder of a Beethoven sonata. Of all the many gifts God has given me (little as I deserve them!) my music is one of the loveliest, and the one I have to thank him for most often.

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