Sunday, June 15, 2008

Music Hath Charms

William Congreve said, “Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to often rocks, or bend a knotted oak.” I wonder where he was when he decided that these statements were true and what music was playing when he decided their truth.

Music has a way of playing every note in our emotional scale. There is nothing more stirring than to hear our national anthem, whatever that tune might be, if it's the Star Spangled Banner, we Americans are likely to quickly agree that it is a tough tune to sing and even more so when we sing it with the emotion that it deserves. The same way with the great hymns of the church, I get quite the lump in my throat when I hear Easter hymns sung with the gusto that Christians should have when they stand in the church and bring these songs from their hearts. To sing the hymns that are associated with the second week of Easter move me just as much, the hymn Thine Be The Glory, Risen, Conquering Son; the tune from Handel's opera Judas Maccabeus stirs me and helps me to see the King of Kings rising to glory.

My late friend, Doug Sechman played as a recital piece the famed Widor Toccata from Charles-Marie Widors' 5th symphony, a complicated organ piece, Doug's health was failing when I first heard him play it, his body wracked with the ravages of respiratory problems he sat down at the Thomas organ that sat in his living room and after arranging the music on the music rack on the organ he closed his eyes as if in prayer, and maybe it was, I'll never know now. He raised his head and began the quick movements on keys and pedals that this piece requires. While the organ book was spread across the music holder he never turned a page. Doug has been gone eight or nine years now, maybe ten and yet each time I hear someone play this robust organ piece I cannot choke back the tears. Doug played it like the music was truly in him, pouring from his heart to his fingers, now after all these years I hear it pour from his heart just as I did when I was sitting in his living room.

I remember my Grandma Bryant sitting down at her spinet piano in the very small house that she and Grandpa lived in, after years of not having played the piano I was amazed when she sat down at the key board and played The Connecticut March, this rousing tune was my Grandpa's favorite from Grandma's repertoire, (she did it from memory, even though it had been ages since she had played.) I often wondered what the song would have sounded like on a large grand piano, though on the piano sized for their home it was still inspiring, you did feel like you wanted to follow the instruction of the title and get up and march.

Big Band music makes me want to dance, even though I don't know how and a waltz tune makes me want to put on white gloves and tails and celebrate New Year's Eve as those in Austria do in many places. A tango can surely only have one effect on a person, it can only make one want to throw their head back and grab a provocatively dressed Argentine woman and make the moves across the floor that makes each dancer look as though they have three legs. (It's just how I've often seen it, watch the next time you see a couple tango.)

Yesterday my mother and I attended the wedding of one of my childhood friends, daughter of one of my father's childhood friends. Judy is heavily involved in music and she met her new husband through music. Before the service started the pastor's wife sat at a high gloss grand piano and played many classical and semi classical pieces. At one point I wasn't sure if the music she was playing was what I first thought it was, and now after thinking about it through the day and I evening I realize that the music that she was playing was an arrangement of Rustle of Spring. My father enjoyed hearing his stepmother, (though she was NEVER referred to as such,) play this lilting piano piece that does sound a bit like spring breaking forth. The irony was not lost on me, my father, now deceased two years, would have loved nothing more than to see this beautiful woman walk down the aisle after seeing mother and brother enter the sanctuary, her mother a vision of loveliness in her own right was followed by the bride and her father, my dad's childhood friend.

For me, it was my father being there in a way, he loved music and it quickly brought back fond memories or moments from his past were there to be celebrated, relived. I know that music does that for all of us. I'm glad that it does, it gives life a richness, a depth, a fullness that very very few things can.

Yes, Mr. Congreve was right, “music does have charms.”


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