Saturday, July 18, 2009
I listened again to Doyle's Non Nobis that is the background for the memorable victory scene in Kenneth Branagh's Henry V.... From Psalm 113, the words say "not unto us, Lord, not unto us but to thy Name be all the glory.." It is marvelous how in the scene the King demurs about gloating over a victory in which more than 18,000 French died but only 25 English... No, the glory is not ours, the King insists but God's... and then as he carries the dead body of a boy and they clear the battlefield of the fallen, one single voice sings "non nobis Domine..."
Music is a powerful medium. It is used to convey an attitude, to speak a message without words, to bring emotion to bear, and to support words so that they soar in memorable melody as well as phrase... For this reason, music must be carefully chosen for it can easily overpower the words. Think of the burning image of the movie "10" and Ravel's Bolero -- the music has been tied to an erotic and sensual image that overpowers everything else about the piece.
So how do we choose music for worship? Is it the music we like to hear? Music that is relevant to us (contenporary)? Music that achieves its desired result or outcome (inspiring, calming, etc.)? OR is it music that marries the text of the Word to sound that makes it but one medium -- music that is a tonal expression of the words being sung?
This is what Luther says is music's purpose and the burden that must be born by those who choose music for worship. When this music is successful, it invites the voice to sing out it and makes within the heart a place for what the Words say and the music conveys -- a lasting melodic form to Word that transcends the moment. It matters not if this music is baroque or romantic or victorian or modern (or contemporary) -- when it does this, it has achieved the purpose for which God established it and man's creative ability has been harnessed for its Divine purpose.
For me this happens with Jerry Coleman's The Lamb as well as with Franck/Cruger's Jesus Priceless Treasure as well as with Starke/Holst We Praise You and Acknowledge You...
When it happens in the secular world, we call it magic... when it happens in worship we call it mysterion -- an almost sacramental moment... God help it to happen every time we gather in the Lord's name and in the Lord's House...