The Harmony of Heaven and Earth

The Harmony of Heaven and Earth

One week.

We are one week away.

Next week, Saturday evening, the Marquette Choral Society will be performing the World Premiere of The Harmony of Heaven and Earth, featuring British composer Paul Ayres. This three-movement piece was commissioned on the occasion of Floyd’s retirement. (Shameless mention: NMU’s Vandement Arena, Saturday, April 25th, 7:30pm, Reception to follow the concert. Tickets are $10. We would love to see you there.)

My heart and mind are a jumbled mess. Floyd tells us that he asked Paul for a score of “medium difficulty.” I secretly suspect that Floyd said, “Write us something ridiculously impossible, and then add a Bell Choir so the Choral Society will REALLY have to watch me!” You’d think, by the way, that difficult music would inspire a choir to watch their conductor more, not less. Oh, the irony.

It’s such a beautiful title, though, isn’t it? The Harmony of Heaven and Earth. It makes us think of cherubs strumming on their harps, perched on fluffy white clouds, as flowers sway gently under a rainbowed sky.

But it isn’t easy and innocent.

It’s messy. It’s tense. It’s difficult. It’s unexpecting.

What happens when the supernatural comes into complement with the natural? Do our brains comprehend it? Do our hearts embrace it? Can our bodies move to a rhythm we can’t quite tap with our feet? Students of the Bible understand the idea of the natural man being at odds with the spiritual man. It’s the Apostle Paul’s infamous exclamation: “What I want to do, I don’t do; and what I don’t want to do–that’s what I do!” It’s the searching we hear in those old Rich Mullins’ lyrics, “do You who live in Eternity hear the prayers of those of us who live in Time?” The created world seems somehow separate and offensive to the spiritual realm.

Oh, but if we could see! If we could step outside of both time and eternity, both natural and supernatural…

But maybe that’s it.

Maybe we think they must be logically opposed to one another because we can only make sense of the one. Our created minds long to reject the paradox. Our created minds long to reject almost every paradox (justice and mercy; love and tolerance; foreknowledge and free-will; hope and fear; gravity and levity; joy and sorrow). The awe of any true paradox is that when we isolate the ideas which seem so contrary, we undermine the idea that is leftover. We rob joy of its meaning if it exists in a vacuum without sorrow. Maybe it is this way with Heaven and Earth. We view them as juxtaposed to one another, when perhaps there is a logical harmony that exists between the two. As much as our brains fight it, maybe the two really do “fit” together. Not only fit, but…complete.

All semester we’ve worked on this insanely difficult music. The meter is difficult. The harmonies are difficult. The page turns were conveniently planned by the evil page-turn elves who want to see us fail when the time-measure or key changes every time we turn a page. The piano is difficult (and difficult to follow) The words don’t entirely make sense to us (I’m still trying to figure out what “cloy” means). And in the stress of all this hard work, we found ourselves finally rehearsing with the Bell Choir last Monday.

My heart said, “Bells!”

My brain said, “Great! One more difficult aspect of this music to throw me off!”

Floyd said, “I have three parts to conduct and only two hands. I’ll have to roll my eyes or something.”

Everything within me was prepared for disaster.

Interestingly enough, what happened was the very opposite. Suddenly, this difficult piece of music existed within a structure to give it form. Suddenly, the seemingly illogical vocal score found confidence to be herself in the safe context of both the piano and bell arrangement.

Tell me again, folks…

Tell me there is nothing theological about music.

I have nothing more for you this fine Saturday, except to encourage you to come out and support Paul Ayres, Floyd Slotterback, and the Marquette Choral Society. Bring your friends and family

EVENTS:

Paul Ayres Organ Recital at Reynolds Recital Hall, Sunday, April 19th, 3:00pm, Free Admission, small reception to follow

Marquette Choral Society Concert: World Premiere of The Harmony of Heaven and Earth, featuring Paul Ayres, Saturday, April 25th, 7:30pm, Admission $10, reception to follow; Floyd’s Final Concert with us

Pax Christi,

Sarah

P.S. And are you wondering about Floyd’s Quotes? Oh…heavens…we’ll have Quotes! Stay tuned!!

A World of False Dilemmas

I owe you a blog, friends. And what is on my mind?

I’ve been thinking about false dilemmas. The all-knowing Wikipedia defines a false dilemma as,

a type of informal fallacy that involves a situation in which limited alternatives are considered, when in fact there is at least one additional option. The options may be a position that is between two extremes (such as when there are shades of grey) or may be completely different alternatives

In my own words, a false dilemma is when two positions are set up as polar opposites, and we are led to believe (whether intentionally or not) that these are the only two options. So…why is this on my mind? I’m not sure. It seems that I am seeing false dichotomies more and more, and in more and more areas of life.

The first time I recognized (that I can recall) a false dichotomy was about ten years ago when I was first becoming enraptured in the Calvinist/Arminian debate. It struck me as odd that these two extremes were set against each other, as if God couldn’t somehow both foreoredain our lives and allow us to make free choices. I had always sort of believed both, and so I set myself firmly in a “fencepost position” and have been there ever since. In the meantime, of course, I learned of Molinism–the great fencepost I could sit upon. In that case, there was a false dilemma: Calvinism or Arminianism, with absolutely, positively, undoubtedly no other option. And there was. There is. There are several, in fact.

I have seen false dilemmas more and more over the years, and not only in theological circles (although definitely there, also–it amazes me how we set God’s justice against His mercy, as if the two are mutually exclusive and there is no third option whereby He can be just and merciful [and He is; He must be; if He isn’t, He isn’t God; mercy loses all meaning without justice; and justice loses all meaning without mercy]).

I am reading a book by Jeremy Begbie that I’ve drooled over and coveted for some time. I am, quite disappointingly, near the end. I have two chapters remaining, which I’m loathe to read because I don’t want to be finished. I have enjoyed this book so much (it reminds me what I am passionate about: not merely music, not merely theology; but how the two relate), but I have noticed that even in the perspective of music and theology, there has been something of a false dichotomy: Either music is something uber-cosmos-related–and thus, very theological–or it is merely artistic–and thus, merely expressive.

I don’t mean to imply that Begbie sets up this dichotomy–he certainly doesn’t. But as I’ve read the stories of composers and theologians that Begbie offers, I’ve become aware of this idea that music is often seen as one or the other.

Tell me it isn’t so in your own church: music is either very theological (ie: traditional hymns, doctrinal) or very expressive (ie: this is how much you love me, Jesus, and this is how much I love you back, choruses). Whether a church engages both types of worship music, there is an underlying assumption that the two are set in oposition to one another.

I have many thoughts to share about Begbie’s book, but this one is heavy on my mind. It seems to me, as with most of the things I accept as true, that there must be a paradox. There must be a coming together of two opposing ideas to offer a third solution. In terms of sacred music, I truly believe there is another option. I truly believe there is something both theological and expressive in music. I’m not sure what to call it.

But recognize it. I do. I recognize it as certainly as I recognize Jenn in a crowd. We go to choir rehearsal every Monday, and we sing these songs rich with the theology of the Lutheran church (oh…did I mention we’re singing Lutheran songs this semester? How happy is this girl? OH yeah!), and I recognize both the eternal and the emotion. They are grafted together in beautiful music.

What do you think? Do you view music (particularly music that pertains to Christianity) as important doctrinally, or emotionally, or both? Or neither? Or…something entirely different? What do you think?

More thoughts on Begbie’s book next week. I hope. Maybe even something of a review. I promise, it will read something like, It was so great! Begbie is so wonderful! I need more books like this! I drooled all over it! Overtones make my heart skip! Who knew Bonhoeffer was a musician? I’m so in love with this topic!!!! Just to give you a preview. ;)

Pax Christi.

Sar