Saturday, August 31, 2013


I didn't grow up in a musical family and I regret that.  My father, or so I've heard, use to jam with the Carter Family at a local store when he was a teenager.  But then Hitler stole his soul when it was sucked out of him on the beaches of Normandy.  I never knew the man he had been or could have been, including his musical self.  I did catch him a time or two alone, in his bedroom, strumming on his old Martin Guitar but he would stop playing when I walked in.
Like any teenager I had a brief affair with music when I used it as my surrogate feelings during the years of puppy love, love lost, love found again.  I found Bread as my outlet while my friends found CCR.
Once I was past that phase my new avenue of expression was John Denver and that was after I fell in love with the mountains.
But those were only brief and chance encounters with music.  The voices were my poets to say what I felt but didn't have the words to day . . . but it wasn't really the music that got me.
I will get back to my story but I wanted to say that the reason I'm writing about this is right now is that I'm about to embark on a huge music festival in Seattle starting tomorrow. I'm going because I've discovered the band FUN and they are the main attraction.
So, back in college we were required (thank goodness) to take music appreciation.  Most saw it as a class to sleep in and an easy "A."  I may have had those intentions . . . but I became swept away with the notes and orchestration in the same way that the first draw off a crack pipe can turn a soul inside out.
The professor led us through the history of music, touching on virtually all genres.  The sound system in the auditorium was superb. We covered the classics, the Renaissance  composers, Gershwin and Jazz.
I was totally enthralled in music for several weeks.  I borrowed a huge "Time-Life" collection of orchestral music and listened to it on my LP in my dorm room constantly, only being replaced by Pink Floyd's The Wall album as soon as my roommate came into the door.  I was too dumb and narrow minded to recognize the same beauty of music, arrangement and lyrics of Floyd.  I had already been taught that rock, at least rock at that level, was from the devil.
But it wasn't long until I was taught that classical music was from the devil as well.  After all, unless music had lyrics and those lyrics used the word "Jesus,"  then we thought it was a waste of time in our dualistic thinking world.  I know, it was a sad day when I gave back my classical albums.
I was told that if you really want to listen to music, then God has provided us with His own good music.  I was introduced to Larry Newman, Second Chapter of Acts and Amy Grant  I wanted to sleep with Amy Grant as did all my male evangelical friends, but of course we never revealed that's why we liked listening to her.  Then there was Evie.
But, the sad thing here wasn't that those aforementioned entertainers weren't good. It was just a sad day when I narrowed my world of music down to the .05% of what was available. It was like a man dying of thirst and trying to drink through a straw  . . .  not the plastic kind, but the literal, straw of hay.
It is said that mathematics is the language of nature or reality.  I totally agree and only wish I spoke more of the language.  But it may have been Pythagoras who first realized that music and math were the same.  I guess you could say that music is like cutting across the grain of math and seeing the array of fibers in a beautiful way.
Music, good music (not meaning evangelical music) is the greatest apologetic in my opinion.
A long time ago when I was first disillusioned with Christianity, I was wrestling with which path to take out of my dark hole. I wasn't sure for a year or two. But like any human story (except maybe in  a Hallmark movie) there are not clear points of solution.  My story also was a process. But I do remember one key moment when I felt most confident that God was really there.
I was attending a medical conference in Boston. I had gone to a Christian Medical Society meeting earlier in the week at the conference. . . out of habit, and hope.  I had a hope that I would find something.  I found nothing.  It was morally bankrupt.  I was nauseous by them circling their wagons to fight the gays at the conference (this was during the height of the culture wars) and everyone was constantly using thinly veiled self-adorations.  For the rest of the week I avoided those evangelicals like the plague and just kept to myself.
But one night I was walking down a street in Boston and overheard a deep base sound.  That's all I could hear at first.  I followed the sound.  It let me to a smoky bar that was half empty.  But in front was a baby grand and a guy playing it, beside him another man on an upright acoustic base wearing a tux.  Then in the corner was a tall, thin, black lady in a red, evening grown singing jazz.  She sound exactly like Nora Jones does to me now . . . with the rusty vocials.
I dropped into a wooden seat and was totally taken away. I don't think I had ever sat at the feet of a jazz singer before, not on the level or with this intimacy.  With her beautiful  and expressive smile (and frown) I felt that she was singing only to me.  Maybe she was.  I looked around and the other 4-5 people in the bar all seemed drunk.
But when she was finished and I realized it was now late and very dark, I walked out into the cobble stone street.  I felt breathless.  The music had spoken to me in a profound way.  Not the lyrics, but the spectrum of human emotions that the singer had led me through . . . and the notes of the piano and the strings on the base.  The stings of different weights, which responded mathematically according to mass and the laws of Newton.  I sensed the harmony of the universe in a way that I knew that God was there, really there and I felt that with confidence.


Anonymous said...

raneybrArguably, your best yet! Thanks. And thanks for being honest about Amy Grant! (me too) :-)

Anonymous said...

In the recent Christianity Today, singer Jason Harrod says, "I believe when I sing. I might be a tired, angry guy, with an underlying suspicion of futility. But when I sing, I believe."