I grew up on opera and bluegrass. It was weird and confusing at times. On a certain week my grandmother, a former soprano with several opera companies, had me sitting at the Convention Center, a 9-year old stuffed in tie and jacket, on a perfectly beautiful Saturday to be outside, instead listening to young Cherubino (in “The Marriage of Figaro”) singing, “I speak of love awake, I speak of love dreaming, to the water, to the shade, to the mountains, to the flowers, to the grass, to the springs . . .” The next Sunday evening, I’d be with Uncle Mac and his Bluegrass band as they sang, “Once two strangers climbed ole Rocky Top, looking for a moonshine still. Strangers ain’t come down ole Rocky Top, reckon’ they never will.“ (I’d be trying to figure out why). Then, on Friday night, I’d be at my buddy David’s house, listening to his older brother’s Steppenwolf album and singing, “Like a true nature’s child, we were born, born to be wild. We can fly so high, I’m never gonna die!”
The 19th century writer and rumbustious character Walter Savage Landor wrote, “Music is God’s great gift to humanity, the only art of heaven given to earth and the only art of earth we take to heaven.”
As a child and teenager, I didn’t think of my grandmother’s opera singing as a gift so much as torture. And my grandmother often dismissed her son’s bluegrass as “backwoods, washboard scratchin’!” But I know now how much the music of my family’s life, like all music, represents expressions of longing and adventure, joy and sadness, wonder and mystery.
The word “enchant” comes from the Latin incantare, meaning “to sing against or sing into,” as if to say we sing or play music as a way of singing against the pain, sorrow, or fear and singing into joy, mystery, and hope. I suppose we’ve been using this gift of music to speak to life since the beginning of time — celebrating a new crop or praying for rain, celebrating a new life or mourning a loss, celebrating a victory or rallying the team.
It may be hard for some to sense the ancient drumming and chanting of our ancestors or the washboard scratchin’ of mountain music or the high shrills and vibrato of opera or even the beat boxing and aggressive words of rap as “enchanting.” But in its truest sense, all music is about singing against or singing into something.
Making music — in the car, in our church, in the shower, at the office, in the hospital, at the store. If quantum physics is correct, that everything is ultimately connected and affects everything else, then singing and making music may be one of the best things we can do for ourselves, for one another, for the world and for God, for the very ground of our being.
This Sunday, the Gift of Music:
Rev. Tom McDermott
featuring special Christmas music with harpist Hillary Hummel
and Dace Sultanov on cello
with another message from the Eggnog Distributors of America
featuring actor Jakie Cabe and Becky Shanlever
as well as favorite Christmas carols and the music of
the Blues Travelers, James Taylor, and Sting.
See you Sunday!