If you never listen to classical music, you are missing out on one of life’s greatest pleasures. If you have been exposed to small doses, and developed an unfortunate distaste for historic music from the past several centuries, give it a second chance.
The fact is there are so many varieties, with exciting variations introduced by countless gifted composers, that almost anyone can find something in the field that inspires them.
It was probably classical works that C.S. Lewis had in mind when he wrote to Arthur Greeves in 1916, “Isn’t it funny the way some combinations of words can give you—almost apart from their meaning—a thrill like music?”
Our Director of Parish Music recently shared some interesting facts that I had not known. Although I’ve sung in a number of choirs through the years, I never mastered any “instrument.”
Sure, teachers attempted to teach me about music back in the days of the flutophone. (Yes, I was introduced to instrumental music way back in the day before most elementary schools upgraded to plastic instruments properly called “recorders.”)
A flutophone may look like a toy, but it is actually a legitimate “pre-band instrument” belonging to the wind family.
Returning to the class I attended . . . our Music Director introduced us to one of the seventeenth century’s finest composers, Heinrich Schütz. This German Lutheran studied with the Italian Roman Catholic Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, a master of polyphony. Curiously, their shared devotion to religious music allowed for a genuine friendship, despite the Thirty Years War which raged across Central Europe at the time.
In addition to learning some history about composers, I was stunned to learn that rap music had been invented as long ago as 1635-45.
It was called “recitative,” and is a style of vocal music that alternated between speaking and singing. We listened to some examples, and I immediately realized that even fans of modern rap (among whom I do not include myself) can find some classical music they would likely enjoy.
C.S. Lewis and the Blessings of Music
Luther famously declared, “next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.”
C.S. Lewis also regarded music as a gift of God. In his essay, “On Church Music,” he ponders the blessing received by those who listen to religious music. He finds that humility is the key.
There are two musical situations on which I think we can be confident that a blessing rests. One is where a priest or an organist, himself a man of trained and delicate taste, humbly and charitably sacrifices his own (aesthetically right) desires and gives the people humbler and coarser fare than he would wish, in a belief (even, as it may be, the erroneous belief) that he can thus bring them to God.
The other is where the stupid and unmusical layman humbly and patiently, and above all silently, listens to music which he cannot, or cannot fully, appreciate, in the belief that it somehow glorifies God, and that if it does not edify him this must be his own defect.
Neither such a High Brow nor such a Low Brow can be far out of the way. To both, Church Music will have been a means of grace: not the music they have liked, but the music they have disliked. They have both offered, sacrificed, their taste in the fullest sense.
But where the opposite situation arises, where the musician is filled with the pride of skill or the virus of emulation and looks with contempt on the unappreciative congregation, or where the unmusical, complacently entrenched in their own ignorance and conservatism, look with the restless and resentful hostility of an inferiority complex on all who would try to improve their taste—there, we may be sure, all that both offer is unblessed and the spirit that moves them is not the Holy Ghost.
Lewis continues his thoughts, turning to the practical application of his thoughts to the local parish. Members of a typical congregation, of course, do not all share the same musical tastes.
These highly general reflections will not, I fear, be of much practical use to any priest or organist in devising a working compromise for a particular church. The most they can hope to do is to suggest that the problem is never a merely musical one.
Where both the choir and the congregation are spiritually on the right road no insurmountable difficulties will occur. Discrepancies of taste and capacity will, indeed, provide matter for mutual charity and humility.
What wise advice. The presence of love and humility, essential elements of Christian spirituality, can see a congregation through discrepancies of taste. We should each remind ourselves of this, the next time we hear something in worship that does not appeal to our personal preferences.
The question should not be whether we “like” specific music or not, but rather whether or not it truly glorifies God.
The unattributed photograph below suggests C.S. Lewis may have enjoyed a periodic musical interlude as he toiled over piles of correspondence.