My grandfather Wies Pichal, the late father of my mother who died of cancer some years ago, was a much more inspiring man than I realized when he was still alive. One could say he was a man like they don’t make ’em any more, a good catholic man with old-fashioned values that we could probably learn a lot from now that Belgium is a post-catholic country of which the roots have been dissolved. And at the other hand just himself, a man who knew what he stood for, and a very good grandfather for me when I was a kid. He came from a time when people could be honest working people, and he embodied the best of the old-fashioned Flemish catholic folks, in a way that probably cannot exist any more… But I miss it, and I miss him…
One of the things that I learned from him was his approach of music. He was a very musical person, something I probably have inherited from him, but he lived it in an universal way that does not exist any more in late modernity and postmodernity. He was a man of natural music, music sung and played by everyone, and for everyone. He liked simple tunes that could be hummed and played with a few chords on the piano. He also liked music as something to do together, or at least with each other. To sing together (he was part of the parish choir as long as he could) or to play music for someone. Music as interaction between humans. Something very powerful, and might I add, sacred even!
These things are very different now. Music is not something we think about as something played live, since most music we hear is recorded, an a lot of these recordings weren’t even played by musicians on instruments; I’m not saying I am against sample-collage music or electronics, but there is something in unmediated music that is just being played and sung together, even without audience, that is completely lost in most of our contemporary approaches of music. And if you’ve never experienced the ‘organic and together’ version of music, you don’t know what you miss. But I’m happy for church house groups, semi-acoustic band practices and hippie campfires. CD’s, mp3’s and whatever means of playing recorded through boxes or earphones alone are not enough to really experience the dept of what music can be, and even the best live show, good as it is, leaves you incomplete if you don’t have the music inside and know how to let it out, together with others…
Music is big business now, and something that is being sold t us in our capitalist system. Something for professionals only. Singing together is something for churches or maybe sport happenings, but not something most people engage in very often in real life. Music is property of the radio, the record companies and the Cd-stores and i-tunes website. But please let’s not forget that music first and foremost is something inside of us, something of us humans together. Stealing music from humanity and make people pay for it is one of the most devaluating thing that could happen to it. Music should not be a consumer commodity that can be bought, but it should be be part of our lives and beings, and be inside of us, not something we have to buy or get from a machine. That means a disconnect to one of the core parts of our mere humanity. We should as humans be able to sing and play, and be music to each other! Everyone should be singing, regardless how their voice sounds. Music is too sacred to be left to professionals, and too important to give out of our hands!
I was reminded of all of this when I read a blogpost called ‘the song of God’ by Father Stephen, an Orthodox Priest, whom starts with a quote from Gregory of Nyssa, one of the Cappadocian fathers, about man being the song of God:
Man is a musical composition, a wonderfully written hymn to powerful creative activity.
– St. Gregory of Nyssa (PG 44, 441 B)
In Father Stephens words:
In St. Gregory’s thought, man is not only a singer, but a song. We are not only song, but the song of God. Indeed within one theme of the fathers, all of creation is the song of God, spoken (or sung) into existence. “Let there be light,” is more than the voice of command: it is the uttering of a phrase that sets the universe as fugue. God sings. All of creation sings. The song of praise that arises from creation is offered to God, the Author of all things. It is also the sound of the creation itself, a revelation of the truth of its being. Music is not entertainment: rightly sung, it is the very heart of creation.
You should read the rest at Father Stephen’s blog (it’s not long), but I will give you the last paragraph to wrestle with.
I would never predict a disappearance of music – for human beings are a song and the song will not disappear. But to live in a manner that is alienated from ourselves as the song of God is to live with an existential emptiness. If man is a singer, then he must sing – and he must sing to God.
What do you people think? And what does it mean for our musical ‘worship’ in church? And for the rest of our lives?
Let us be the songs, together and when we’re alone.
Never let the music die, or be property of anyone, it sould flow from our hearts to the world!