This past Sunday, December 8th, our choir, which used to be called the Ecumenical Choir and now, happily, is appropriately called the Christ Church Choir (or as I like to say, the ‘world famous Christ Church Tabernacle Choir’) , conducted their glorious Christmas songs and readings service. Our wonderful choir director, Betty Hutchison, worked hard with the fifteen member choir (what small church has 15 people in its choir?!) through many rehearsals, to present songs that made us think, made us cry, made us want to clap our hands to help us enjoy this holiday season. Every emotion experienced in a simple service of song and reading.
I, for one, was happy to be in the balcony all alone doing the readings in between the music pieces. I was glad I was up there because repeatedly I felt tears come to my eyes as the choir hit a special section of a song or the words hit me just so. As the congregation knows, I tear up pretty easy, which is always somewhat embarrassing. So it was good nobody could see me because I was behind them and upstairs.
It wasn’t just me that had this emotional response to the choir, I know, so I began to wonder this morning, why does music do that to us? Why is this special form of communication so powerful?
Music in every form-from classical, to sacred to country-can have that impact, too, can’t it? Listen to Willie Nelson sing Angel Flying too Close to the Ground, and tell me you can do so without emotion…this beautiful song of lament (which, btw, I chose for the song to dance with my daughter at her wedding), tells the story in somewhat sacred language of rescuing and then releasing someone loved. It is heart wrenching and in a simple way, as glorious as a Bach cantata.
When the Mormon Tabernacle Choir breaks into the Halleluiah chorus of Messiah and we all rise as we should (don’t get me started on the modern editions of Messiah where it is suggested you not stand for the Halleluiah chorus…don’t get me started), doesn’t the majesty and power of the multiple voices just run up and down your spine? And doesn’t it do it to you every single time?
Why is that?
I think it does that because though, this will sound like the biggest cliché in the world, I think music is the language of God. God speaks directly to us through our music. After all, if we are in the presence of God, something powerful happens right? (Note I put that in the present tense; we all are in the presence of God regularly.) Music hits us in the soul, goes right through us, opens new doors of understanding and joy. When those doors open the tears water the threshold and the heart takes over from the head and makes us hear differently, hear better, makes us listen more carefully, as St. Benedict tells us, because we ‘listen with the ear of our heart.’
Just as being in the presence of God does. When we feel God’s presence, really feel it, it is a physical thing–a body impact thing–it is when we think with our heart instead of our head. And that is why we tear up to our own choir just as we get emotional when Handel’s Messiah is sung. And we end up blubbering at ol’ Willie.
Music uplifts us. Music informs us. Music helps us realize and experience God in an emotional way. What a gift.
Thank you Betty and choir for a beautiful Christmas gift, unwrapped early.
Peace and all good,