(Gemma, this post’s for you. We have a deal.)
When I wrote the post What Does Being Human Mean, Anyway? the morning after the Boston Marathon Massacre, I was angry, distraught, and in despair. Despair = de spero = out of hope. Blogger friend Gemma of Dear Bliary was in the same bleak place. Where was our hope to come from? We made a deal. If one of us found hope somewhere, we would share it with the other.
Well, the pain remains, and I’ve made no progress with the age-old problem of evil. But I have experienced one balm for the PAIN of evil, and so I’m sharing it with Gemma, and with you. As it happens, the Hub and I are taking a class in The Music of Mourning, requiems and other musical forms of struggle with loss. On the very next morning, then, I was exposed to music I’d never heard before, a requiem, Lux Aeterna, (Eternal Light) by a contemporary composer from the Pacific Northwest, Morten Lauridsen. A very eminent composer, it turns out, although I’d never heard of him before.
The Boston Massacre was forefront in my mind during the first class offering, a hyperemotional requiem by hyperemotional Andrew Lloyd Webber, of Cats and Les Miz and Phantom of the Opera — none of which touch my heart. (Forgive me if you’re a fan of his; he just doesn’t get through to me.) No solace for me there. And then we heard Lauridsen’s requiem. Gentle, contemplative, hypnotically chantlike sound — As I listened, much of my outrage was absorbed into the quiet. By the end I was restored to a state resembling serenity. Only then I realized just how churned up I’d been by the noise and tumult and chaos and anguished images endlessly filling the TV screen, and what a relief it was to have my ears and my being filled with quiet harmonies.
Music can begin to offer hope, to heal the heart —
Like the old saying, music really has charms to soothe the savage beast, or breast, or soul. This youtube excerpt is Part 3, O Nata Lux (dawning light). In this centerpiece of his requiem Lauridsen uses human voices as his principal instruments. When you have time to give yourself to the music (because gentleness and quiet and openness take time), you might try it. No action, no images, simply the bearded composer watching in the stillness. Just close your eyes, and listen:
In another mood, on another morning, however, I might choose something totally different. Music that heals can take many forms. Another of my choices is VERY well known. That supreme man of music who wrote it, Beethoven, was rapidly going deaf. His cherished hero, Napoleon, had turned out to be nothing more than a tyrant and despot of the kind he most loathed. Beethoven himself is the very model of the lonely, anguished genius, and “happiness” is hardly a word associated with his private life. And yet —
The triumphant conclusion to his magnificent Symphony #9 is an Ode to Joy (Freude, Freude). For the first time a composer uses human voices among the instruments in a symphony. The ode carries us along, raises us beyond disillusion, heartbreak, and despair to some other place of timelessness. You can watch its power working right here in this youtube, a performance of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy happening amidst people simply going about their daily business. Just ordinary people, as the people of Boston attending the Marathon were just ordinary people. Watch it unfold here in Sabadell, Spain, on an ordinary day:
In the end the noise of the bombs will be silenced. In the end, the music and the joy and the love and people will win out. Love will drive out hate, and we can put our hope in love.