by Mr. Patrick Love
Inspiration, Amusement, Receptivity, Silence and Contemplation.
Of all the gifts man has received through creation, music is perhaps the most elusive, the most potent, and the most elemental human gift. It can be said that in its origins, music is divine–at least in the sense of Greek mythology. Music gets its name from the word “muse” (from the latin muss), meaning to think, to remember or to inspire goodness. Western culture has long relayed Hesiod’s telling of the story wherein we read that Kronion (Zeus) fathered Mnemosyne’s (the goddess of memory and remembrance) nine daughters, the Muses. All nine muses are related to music, especially Calliope (epic poetry), Erato (love poetry, lyric art), Euterpe (music, especially flute), Polymnia (hymns), and Terpsichore (dance). Music in Western Philosophy most often includes poetry.
Inspiration, a word related to muse, comes from the latin inspirationem, “to breathe or blow into,” alluding at least to the breath of the Holy Spirit but also to movement and to life. Think here of that stirring image of Aslan singing Narnia into creation in C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew. Similarly to our embarking on any real work, music begins and ends in an encounter with another. There is something at work which the artist and his audience are caught up in. Amusement: something a-muse-ing and outside of the artist from which he derives his power; it is the origin of his gift.
Music fosters receptivity and silence, not only in its creation, but if a listener is open to its fruits, the listener receives a gift in silence as well. It is a gift that is posited deep in the recesses of his heart most often without being named. And yet, while a sculpture endures in the natural world for centuries, music is gone in one hearing. To be fully appreciated, it must be recalled from our memory and made present again and anew. There is a deep link between music and memory–a reason mythology relates the muses as children of remembrance. If you attend the competition of the bard, you may notice how inspiring it is to watch the process of a student retelling a poem from memory and of the impact that its retelling has on those listening. It is to this deepest end that music rightly takes its place in the Liberal Arts–that is, in the celebration of a feast or the contemplation of a mystery.
Many of our great feasts are marked by music. There seems to be a power, a space which exists in the bard, in poetry and in music, that allows us to remember things that have come before us, that fosters a freedom to engage with those truths, and that, in a certain sense, affirms their goodness. Like that first Alleluia of the great Fest of Easter, sung against the backdrop of the silence of Lent, music calls out to us to pause, to reflect and to behold what is good.
We all need moments of contemplation in our lives. Some of the finest moments of contemplation occur in the silence of prayer. Perhaps equally important is the contemplation experienced in the silence of music. Josef Pieper pulls out this distinction in an essay from his collection, Only the Lover Sings. In it he says, “music opens up a great, perfectly dimensioned space of silence within which…a reality can dawn which ranks higher than music.”
Higher than music you say?! He must be speaking of the highest of acts, the act which gives us a foretaste a heaven, which affirms the good and which is an act which is good in itself, the act of contemplation. So the next time you think of playing music in your house, let these five gifts be the measure for your selection. Whether its Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marecelli, or Bach’s Sonata No. 1 in G minor–remember the Five Gifts of Western Music: Inspiration, Amusement, Receptivity, Silence and Contemplation.
Mr. Patrick Love is a music teacher at The Heights and, together with Dr. Kevin Strother, conducts the Lower, Middle, and Upper school bands and choir. The Heights Spring Band Concert will be held next Thursday, April 24th at 8:00pm at The Cultural Arts Center with directions available here. Tickets will be sold at the door at $5 per person with a $25 family maximum. The audience will have the opportunity to experience performances by the 5th Grade Band, the Middle School Symphonic Band, as well as the Upper School Jazz Band and Wind Ensemble.