Life without Music
Preacher: The Very Revd Adrian Newman, Dean (2005-2011)
14 September 2008, 15:15 (Trinity 17)
Thanksgiving for the work of Roger Sayer
It was Neitszche who said: “Life without music would be a mistake”. There is no doubt that music is an extraordinarily powerful element of life, it surrounds us and affects us in ways we often cannot imagine.
Music is elemental, it connects us to some of our very earliest memories. The ear of a foetus starts to hear on the 45th day of life, deep in its mother’s womb. This is 7.5 months earlier than the eye begins to see. In a world increasingly obsessed with all things visual, it’s worth remembering that fact.
But we probably don’t think about music in any great depth, unless, like Roger, it happens to be our life. If we do apply the old grey matter to music for a moment, we would probably conclude that, in essence, we use music as a form of escapism. Not that there is anything wrong in that – it does, after all, have the power to change our moods and emotions, and to take us to a different place.
Rob Marshall, musician, Thought For The Day presenter, and Anglican priest, reflecting on the extraordinarily rich world of temple worship in early Jewish history, writes:
music within worship frequently enabled people to withdraw temporarily from the harsh reality of their everyday lives to a safe and wonderful place; to a world of quite different sounds and voices.
"A safe and wonderful place; a world of quite different sounds and voices" – This is cathartic escapism and it's good for the soul.
But the role of music can be to offer far more than a welcome escape from a harsh reality. 2 years ago, the conductor Daniel Barenboim gave the Reith Lectures on the subject ‘In the Beginning was Sound’. Barenboim’s central point was that music should become something that is used not only to escape from the world but rather to understand it.
He looked at a number of aspects of the modern world that are the cause of tension and conflict, and drew out the ways in which music spoke into these:
- music as a means by which we hold unresolved elements of life together
But in the world of sound, in this magical world of sound, ambiguity means that there are many many possibilities, many ways to go. And the longer you hold back on the resolution, the more interesting the whole thing becomes.
- the ability of music to integrate
A musician is by the sheer nature of his profession an integrating figure. If a musician is unable to integrate rhythm, melody, harmony, volume, speed, he cannot make music.
- music as a way of coping with diversity
Conflict, difference of opinion, is the very essence of music, in the balance, in the dynamic, in the way that the music is written. You see that in a Bach fugue, you see that in Mozart concertos and operas, the subversiveness sometimes of the accompaniment. Music teaches us our capacity to bring all the different elements together in a sense of proportion so that they lead to a sense of a whole.
Fundamentalism, the scourge of our age, wants to avoid ambiguity and uncertainty, celebrates separation over against integration, and desires conformity rather than diversity. Music, in Barenboim’s view, is one of the tools available to the world to combat these dark forces.
All of which makes it a natural bedfellow to religious faith. Indeed it is little wonder that historically, you would find it hard to put a sheet of paper between music and faith. The challenge, in a secular age, is to re-establish that link in the mind and experience of ordinary people. Interestingly, Barenboim finished his lectures with this challenge to the world of classical music, to find ways of reconnecting with popular culture:
European classical music will not survive unless we make a radical effort to change our attitude to it and unless we take it away from a specialised niche that it has become, unrelated to the rest of the world, and make it something that is essential to our lives. Not something ornamental, not only something enjoyable, not only something exciting, but something essential.
That (and this is what fascinates me, a non-musician) is precisely the challenge facing Christian faith too. That’s why it’s vital for us to work out the place of music in the direction that the church takes over the coming years. And of course, as in so many areas of church life, the cathedrals will be pioneers of this.
Roger Sayer has brought a depth, a gravitas, and a reputation to our understanding and experience of music in Rochester Cathedral for nearly 20 years. He is a phenomenal musician himself, but has also been able to bring the gift of music alive in others too – in music practitioners (professional and amateur), but also in those who appreciate music without being performers.
His legacy to Rochester Cathedral is immense, and the best thing is that he’s not leaving us, merely re- locating his talents elsewhere in this wonderful musical space.
If life without music would be a mistake, then Christianity without music is almost impossible to imagine. Today we acknowledge with thanks the enormous contribution that Roger has made to bringing faith alive through music for a whole generation.
And since music is the food of love, and faith, and life, let us all play on.........