Friday, June 29, 2007

praise and music

My dad subscribes to New Zealand's Open Brethren magazine, the Treasury, which comes out monthly, and here is an excerpt from the editorial by Ken Edgecombe in July's edition:

C.S. Lewis claims that only damaged people fail to give praise. Everywhere,
he says, the wolrd rings with the sound: praise of weather, of wines, of dishes,
actors, pets, flowers, rare stamps, beetles, colleges, even politicians or
scholars; of any conceivable thing. In fact, he believes that the giving of
praise completes the experience. Other people have come to the same conclusion:
Elvis Presley asked (All Shook Up), "Who do you thank when you have
such luck?" The healthy person looks for a way to acknowledge the

In that sense, God's people are offered a fullness of life. I always
admired Ed Hillary's Everest climb, but I was thrilled to meet him when I was at
high school, and his autograph is still in my book. We love to admire the music
of Handel, but what would it be like to hear the man himself play it? Surely
nothing would be more natural than to say "Isn't he great" if we watched the
maestro perform. And when we see the wonders of the created order, we are
invited to move beyond the creature and acknowledge the creator. It's the most
natural thing for a witness to do. "Let everything that has breath praise the

To me, this was a really interesting thought. It's true; it seems natural for us to want to look beyond a brute fact of nature like a sunset and to ascribe some sort of responsibility for it somewhere. In fact, how can a sunset be beautiful at all if we were not given minds that comprehend beauty? In looking at things created by humans, it seems stunted to ignore the existence of an artist figure or a mind behind it, because that can add so much more significance to the thing itself. If you look at most modern art, this rings very, very true. There's no point in observing Duchamp's Urinal, for example, as a work of art unless you know what the artist intended it to be, or it's just a urinal, nothing more and nothing less. So why should it be any different for the created world that owes nothing to humans?

I was especially interested by the analogy using Handel. I don't really like analogies usually, as I think you can make anything sound plausible using analogy, but I think this one is a good one. It seems to me that music is a perfect example of the way we are naturally inclined to give praise. In watching an oratorio like Messiah, or perhaps a concerto or symphony, a portion of the praise falls to the music itself. But a larger portion falls to the musicians. Sound cannot help itself, it just is, in the same way as a sunset is just light, even if it's beautiful. The musicians' skill, however, cannot be ignored; they have worked hard and long to perform something that is pleasing. If they are particularly good, their portion of praise grows slightly, and they become like a mini-creator.

But. At the end of every performance of Messiah I have ever been to, the conductor holds up his score above his head for everyone to see, and the audience claps long and hard - because the true genius behind the performance is not the performers or the acoustics of the hall or the minds with which we understand the music, although they are all necessary. It is the person who formed the music from nothing, who gave it meaning and rhythm and beauty. It is almost the most moving moment of the performance for me.

So: what this says to me. Understanding life and living a good one is, in a sense, a praiseworthy goal, and if we ever achieve some success in this, we are entitled to some credit. Often our parents are too, as the ones who performed the crucial step of bringing us into the world and teaching us how to live - much like the musicians. Appreciating beauty in itself can never be a bad thing. But if we fail to look beyond these aspects of life to the very first cause, if we cannot look past the sunset to see the Creator, we are missing out on the most important aspects of it all.

1 comment:

LEstes65 said...

I love this post. I love all your posts. But I love this one as it hits home. Today in church, my pastor was talking about how Joseph had talents (like organizing Potipher's household). And he gave thanks to God for giving him those gifts. I sang with the worship team today in church (still a new thing for me). I receive a lot of praise for my voice and I accept it. Because God gave me that gift. He put my parents together (both can sing) and their union gave me life and a voice. I accept the praise because to reject it would seem like false humility - denying that which God gave me.

I'm way off your main point. But that's what it made me think of.

You rock.