The concluding remarks of chapter 2, “Constantine the Great,” from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs are an encouragement to all Christians in every nation and country:
I doubt not, good reader, but thou dost right well consider with thyself the marvellous working of God’s mighty power; to see so many emperors confederate together against the Lord and Christ His anointed, who, having the subjection of the whole world under their dominion, did bend their whole might and devices to expatriate the name of Christ and of all Christians. Wherein, if the power of man could have prevailed, what could they not do? or what could they do more than they did? If policy or devices could have served, what policy was there lacking? If torments or pains of death could have helped, what cruelty of torment by man could be invented which was not attempted? If laws, edicts, proclamations, written not only in tables, but engraven in brass, could have stood, all this was practised against the weak Christians. And yet, notwithstanding, to see how no counsel can stand against the Lord, note how well all these be gone, and yet Christ and his Church doth stand.
In his 1960 Preface to The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis writes, “We must picture Hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment.”
Spend any amount of time on social media or otherwise in our present day and age, and the description above is rather apt, isn’t it?
Last Friday night, I accompanied my Classical Conversations, Challenge 2 students and their parents to the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville, Tennessee, to hear the Nashville Symphony. The symphony orchestra performed three Mozart pieces, one of which was his 21st Piano Concerto, featuring Benedetto Lupo on the piano. It had been too long since I had experienced a live symphony orchestra, and, chances are, it has been too long for you as well. Even if you do not enjoy classical music, I think you should go. In fact, if you don’t like classical music, it is probably because it has been too long since you went to hear it be performed. Assuming that to be the case, I submit three reasons why it should not be very long until you attend a live symphony orchestra performing in their local concert hall. First, music is to be heard; second, music is to be seen; and third, music is to be felt.
1.) Music is to be heard. No surprise here, right? Everyone knows that music is to be heard. That’s the main point of music, of course, but my point is that until very recently, say the last 100 years, music had to be heard live. It was written to be heard live. Now, don’t get me wrong. I have a very good set of speakers at home, and I love to sit in front of them and turn the volume up high enough so that the music fills me up. This is a fantastic way to listen to a good recording, but it will always be that: a recording. My head between my speakers or my headphones does not equal the acoustics of a finely constructed concert hall. At home, the best I can do is “stereo,” and I guess some folks can do “surround,” but at the concert hall you are listening to 50-100 different instruments producing their own sound, from their own location, and then bouncing around the room that was created to bounce music before reaching your ears. Surround sound cannot replicate the acoustics of concert hall. At home you hear a recording; at the concert hall you hear the music.
2.) Music is to be seen. Okay, I know, under normal circumstances, you can’t see sound waves. But what I mean is that music does not birth spontaneously from empty space. People make music, and people are alive, so music is alive. (not exactly a flawless syllogism, but I stand by the assertion none the less.) If you attend the performance of a symphony orchestra, you not only hear the music, but you see the music being made by the creators themselves. The conductor will lift his arms–baton in hand, and the musicians will respond. He is the head and they are the members of this music-producing body. The violin bows will point toward heaven, praying for the gift of music to be granted. The conductor will momentarily lift baton and eyebrows, both will fall, and the dance will begin. The musicians will sway, shoulders will lean, feet will arch, eyes will close, and chests will rise and fall. The music is alive, because its creators are alive. The instruments themselves come to life as their masters lovingly draw the music out of them while stage lights shimmer on brass and lacquer.
All of this focuses on the musicians themselves leaving out the lighting and architecture of the building. At the Schermerhorn in Nashville, we are blessed with exquisite chandeliers; ornately decorated, vaulted ceilings; and stately, columned architecture. The pipes from the organ stand at perpetual attention behind the stage and exhibit their visual beauty whether or not they are producing their aural beauty.
All of this is yours to take in at your discretion. Watch it all at once, or focus on one specific thing at a time. It’s your call, but only if you’re there.
3.) Music is to be felt. You will not only see and hear the music, you will feel it. There is a visceral delight that can only come when the mezzo piano pizzicato of the strings cadences and the full ensemble enters at a solid forte. It hits you. You feel it, and it feels good. You’re alive and they’re alive, and the music is alive. You’re right; you can feel the boom of speakers at home or in the car. We’ve all experienced the boom of the speakers from someone else’s car, but the feeling I’m talking about is not detached from the other two points I’ve made.
The “feeling” of the music is the culmination of the acoustics, the lights, the conductor, the musicians, and even the little old lady sitting next to you, who smiles when the cadence is especially sweet. Life doesn’t happen in boxes. It happens all at once, and feeling the music at a live symphony performance happens all at once. You must hear the music and see the music and be in the music in order to feel the music in this way.
A symphony orchestra is a crowning achievement of the triune God who made heaven and earth. He is one, and he is three, all at once, all the time. A symphony is 50-100 musicians living and breathing together for 1-2 hours. It is one and it is many, in a way that no other genre of music has ever come close to achieving. A symphony is on a whole other level. It transcends, yet it is right there in front of you, as well as around you, to enjoy.
So, carpe symphoniam, seize the symphony. If you don’t love it now, devote yourself to it, and grow to love it. You will be blessed, and the world will be blessed that another image-bearer of God has become a patron of symphonic music. In our decadent culture, orchestral music needs all the patrons she can get.
Posted in: Arts & Culture
(Previously published on timgallant.com.)
Non-Christians (and increasingly, those who self-identify as “Christians”) frequently dismiss biblical ethical norms with a quick “Oh, but the Bible condones slavery and polygamy!”
With, of course, the obvious implication that the Bible’s morals are awfully unreliable. Because it “condoned” things that we find offensive, and that even Christians seem embarrassed about. (We Christians, after all, seem agreed by now that both polygamy and slavery are bad.)
And then, having cast aside the Bible as a reliable guide, we enlightened moderns can take on that role of deciding for ourselves what is right and wrong. (more…)
Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy was born in Berlin, Germany in July 1888. He received doctorates in law and philosophy from the University of Heidelberg. In 1917 he served as an officer in the German army and fought in the trenches of The Great War. Upon Hitler’s ascent to power in 1933, Rosenstock-Huessy immigrated to America, taking a position at Harvard, then later at Dartmouth College where he taught social philosophy until he retired in 1957. He died in 1973.
This being an internet blog post, you’re probably not planning on sitting here all day, so I’ll cut to the chase. (more…)
Now that we’re some two weeks past the Oscars, I guess any comment is definitely unfashionably late. But I’ve been reflecting on the excitement some Christians expressed over Matthew McConaughey’s acceptance speech, and it seems to me that a brief comment is still apropos.
What got people going, of course, was the actor’s ostensible thanksgiving to God in the course of his speech. Mind you, it was a rather strange sort of thanksgiving. (more…)
Posted in: Arts & Culture