Music, As Something We DO ~

I feel sorry for this generation, and for my own. My generation, and perhaps that of my parents, were among the first to regard music as Mere Personal Entertainment. My generation was the first to make music highly mobile and very private. At least my parents had to turn down their small transistor radios, and stuff them under a pillow at night, in order to listen to The Devil's Songs. My generation gave birth to the ancestor of the i-pod - our small, portable cassette players, strapped to an arm or waist, with earphones blasting Journey, Boy George, or (in my case) Joe Jackson.

There was a time when music was what you did. There was no recorded music. You played it or you sung it best you could. It was physical, in the way that only things immediate can be. There was a time when, if you couldn't play an instrument, or sing with any ability, you at least listened actively to others who could play and sing. It was all folk music, then.

Music wasn't remote. In most cases, you'd have known your musicians well. They would be members of your own family or church family, and you'd wait days on end just to hear your friend or collegue play your favorite song. The night of that festive gathering, as you tapped your toe or danced or hummed along, you could watch the very eyes of the ones making the music. You could feel their delight. You knew that the fiddle player was creating such magic after a long, hard, hot day on the farm. Or the lead vocalist had a colicky baby, and you heard from the pianist that she had been up all night with it. Poor woman. No wonder her voice cracks now and then - but no matter. You love to hear her sing! You took the music home with you, in your very bones. Music was soul nourishing, and very much a product of community.

To this day, that is what music is, in Harvest Church. It is completely a product of community, and worship is played and sung by the people we know and love. It is not professional. There is excellence, but professionalism for the sake of stage performance is frowned upon. Keep it real - even when it hurts. Sometimes it does hurt!

Occasionally, at our home, we have what are known as celidhs. (pronounced "Kay-lees"). The word is Gaelic/Scottish, and means "gatherings where there is great food, music, and story telling."

It is not an evening where you have a chain restaurant cater the food, and a hired DJ play the popular tunes and talk to the crowd to "warm them up". That is a soul-less, misshapen facimile of a real party, I don't care if you try to call it a "Wedding Reception" or a "Retirement Party"...it isn't celebration as God envisions for His people.

We have evenings where we are the entertainment. We whip up a few simple, hearty dishes of food, we tell hilarious stories from our beginnings as a church, and my husband sits down with his Maton guitar, my daughter at the piano, my son with his guitar, and my other daughter with her guitar, and, though my youngest son can sing quite well, he's reached his "I'm Too Cool To Sing" stage, so you won't hear from him for a couple more years.

If you come to my house on one of these evenings, you'll find none of it scripted. Some songs will be begun, but tossed quickly because someone isn't sure how to play it. Other songs will be lingered over...as the presence of God sweetly envelops each person in the living room, or outside on our back deck. We had one of our best celidhs on our front porch, one evening this past year, with a pastor-friend from Virginia. That man, Bo Stewart, sang in his very booming voice, and played the guitar with animated gusto - all our neighbors could hear him, and we didn't give a darn. They were welcome to join the small crowd on the porch.

But no....though invited, they didn't come join us. They preferred to pull one earbud out of their ear, while washing their SUV's and listening to their i-pods, to stare at us for a moment, in shock and awe. Music as something people do?! Do people really just sit down together to sing anymore? Why do that, when everyone can retreat to the isolation of his or her favorite music and earbuds?

I mentioned the book "Delight" by J.B. Priestly on last night's blog. (Among other things. Ahem. Percocet does make one speak in strange tongues...) Here's a snippet from another chapter. He calls any sort of live music-making "chamber music". So wherever you read those words "chamber music", substitute "jam session", and it will make all the sense in the world to you!

"Chamber music (read: "jam sessions") at home are delightful. Not for everybody of course; mere listeners, passive guest-types, may have a hell of a time with it. (Let them go somewhere else, and switch on their automated music). No, this kind of music is delightful for actual performers, and for those who are loitering round the edge of performance, waiting to be asked to join in, and for those women - and a few wise men - who enjoy seeing the persons dear to them happy, let the notes fall where they may. There has always been to me a sort of cozy magic about it. You are at home, all safe and snug, and yet are also wandering in spirit, through lost kingdoms, with the music. Even the best string quartets and trios will not always survive the atmosphere, chilly with determined culture, of those horrible little concert halls given up to chamber music. (read: "professional concerts"). We forget that a lot of music has been written for fun.

What a difference when you bring in firelight, armchairs, tobacco, and a tray of drinks! The execution - as it often is with us - may be sketchy and even downright murderous, but you can catch the mood of the masters, whether they are looking for the Holy Grail, or a pint of wine and a helping of roast goose. You wish you could do it better, but you are delighted to be doing it at all.

But I need not perform myself, nor be in my own home, to know this delight. As I write this, many rooms come flickering back, in Bradford and Cambridge, a Lakeland cottage, a studio in Chelsea; half-forgotten, mysterious apartments abroad; and firelight and candlelight play tenderly among the instruments; and Mozart and Haydn, Brahms and Debussy, move among us again; and within the ring of friendly faces, ghosts these many years, the little worlds of sound shine and revolve like enchanted moons. Why - bless our bewildered souls! - every time a violin is taken up to the attic, or a piano is carted away, and in their place is a gadget that turns music on and off like tap water, we move another step away from sanity and take to snarling harder than ever."

Live music, played and sung by ourselves or those we know and care about, has such persuasive influence. When music becomes entertainment, rather than an active part of our lives, a passive amusement, rather than something we do, we indeed become more petulant and victimized and angry. When we move away from Anything As It Was Created To Be - whether that be sexuality, church-life, or music - we supress our own human-ness, and joy leaks out.

"...we take to snarling harder than ever..."

SING, people! SING, this Christmas time. Don't let Bing Crosby or even James Taylor do it all for you. (Though James Taylor has indeed made my all time favorite Christmas CD!)

Music should also be "DIY"...for fun....for delight. Please, make your very own joyful noise this season.
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