Saturday, December 13, 2014

Singing with Archangels

It was three days before Christmas, 1979. I had lived in Brasil with my family for 9 months, and had become accustomed to the strange differences between the home I had left and the new home I had made. There was a rhythm to life there, with school in the morning, swimming and canoeing in the afternoon, exploring with a bb gun or a homemade butterfly net. No radio, no TV, no video games. A wall of books (I eventually got bored of all the Hardy Boys, and instead read Dracula and Moby Dick). A tape player, on which we played the tapes of recorded Sunday school lessons from my granddaddy's Sunday school class back stateside.

And then the package came.

Any package we got inevitably contained mail from the States. It usually contained a few things that we were hoping for, to make it feel less like we were quite as far from family, friends, and the home 3100 miles away.

Also included was a recording of music. We ripped the cassette open, flipped it and inserted it into the tape player. Then took it out, flipped it again, because it was at the end of the tape (some of you will have no idea what I am talking about).

Out flowed organ music, so strong that it distorted. Followed by choral music, with sopranos soaring, Jean Hiott anchoring the tight harmony of the altos, Doyle Langley singing improbable tenor notes, and uberbass Ellison Jenkins, the foundation of the choir.

I closed my eyes. I listened to the beauty of music, taking me away from the place where I sat on the old couch in the open air house in the humidity of the Amazonian rainforest.

And transported me to a distant location.

I listened all the way through, crying for reasons I did not understand. Mom explained that I was homesick. She recognized the symptoms well. 

I got so homesick that I actually ran a fever, and got really sick. But I'll never forget that sensation of complete emptiness that came as a result of music. That sense that somehow I was no longer tied to the place.

This week I listened to an acapella version of Ave Maria by Franz Biebl performed by Chanticleer. The music did the same thing. It was from their Christmas album, and it worked its way to the top of my ipod, and about halfway through, I closed my eyes. (Take just a moment and do the same right now.  Go ahead... Click the link.  I'll wait.)

Suspension. Resolution. One line a solo - the call. Response in six part harmony. Echo of four voices in tight harmony. Slow crescendo; the tenors soar while crystal basses laser-cut through the harmony to hold, hold, hold.... and then release. Twelve voices, impossibly interlaced, then resolved.  

Suddenly, I was no longer sitting at my desk in the office. I was in the cathedral, eyes lifted up to the arched ceiling, tears streaming down my cheeks.
1912 Wofford Glee Club.  Stolen from Philip Stone's blog


That is why we sing together. That is why we make music. Not because we are Chanticleer, or because we can replicate the tight harmonies originally intended by brilliant composers.

But because participation in that ritual transports us. I sing because it takes me from the mundane and gives me the touch of the divine. I leave behind the quotidian and join in with the heavenly choir.

 “Therefore with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify Your glorious Name, evermore praising you and saying, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of heavenly hosts. Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

So we sing with the angels in the liturgy, and so they sing with us.

And through that music, we are transported home.


Susan league said...

Well said!

Susan League said...

Well said!

aunt Patty said...

Wish I could hear you sing.