Remembering the Mystical

How do I practice music in such a way that I am treating the created world “as able to glorify God in its own way, by virtue of its own distinctive patterns, rhythms, and movements?” (Begbie, RT, 92)  This as opposed to viewing music as merely a pointer beyond itself to a Platonic ideal harmony, as dangerously earthy, emotional, nonverbal, as necessarily contained in its proper place by the clarity and purity of words and ideas.

As a theorist, I must necessarily treat music as a less-than-scientific whole.  The analytical-logical side of me longs to understand music as a science, to articulate how it works in an orderly, organized fashion, to hypothesize and experiment, to explain away its ineffableness.  And to a great extent, delving into the organized patterns that compose effective music is aesthetically and spiritually rewarding, leading to a grand appreciation of the existence of such order, physical and theoretical, in such an intangible subject, reflecting the grandeur of the entire universe.

But the temptation to quantify and organize can lead to a disregard of the most distinctive element of music: audible sound.  I have found myself drawn into the mathematical elegance of a theory for weeks on end, only to step back, listen, and realize that this particular pattern has little or no relevance to the way I hear the piece I’m attempting to understand.

Simultaneously, when I am drawn myopically to the quantifiable orderliness of this art, I fail to remember that every effort to quantify and organize music only reveals more clearly what makes it an art and not a science.  In spite of vast scholarship into music cognition and perception, we still cannot fully articulate why music is so emotionally profound, why it can change not only moods, but minds and hearts as well.  We can speculate on the numerous contextual elements that might bring us to a particular response, but we cannot fully understand it.  It is the mystical, spiritual, and human nature of music that confounds us.

Even among performing musicians, perhaps especially students, the hectic rush of daily life, practicing, lessons, recitals, and juries can keep us from remembering the poetical and spiritual richness and the humanizing nature of our art.

So perhaps at least a partial answer to my question is remembering: remembering that God formed the order and the mysticism that together are poured out in music, and that by participating in it, we are articulating (however imperfectly) a profound and otherwise inexpressible praise that is echoed in all of creation to the glory of His grace.

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2 thoughts on “Remembering the Mystical

  1. Reblogged this on Pictures on Silence and commented:

    I wrote this post a couple of years ago, and as I reread it, I am both encouraged to see that these ideas have continued to influence my scholarship, specifically in my own research area, and bothered by my own failure to remember in my daily life. Remembering is difficult but terribly important. That God formed the nature of music is part of the picture, but that God formed me and the whole context of my life must necessarily shape the priority I place on the study music. However significant this art and the study of it may be, even more so is the living out of my WHOLE life, body & soul, for God’s glory.

  2. Pingback: What is it that keeps us sane? « Pictures on Silence

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