Today is a day of celebration.
It’s Veteran’s Day, the day we honor those who fought for our country to preserve and protect our rights.
It’s the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI, which lends an even greater significance to the Holiday today.
It’s also a day of celebration right here at St. Paul’s, for the return of the organ after a 31 week renovation.
So today is a celebration. We’re making a lot of joyful noise together this morning, and rightly so.
What I want to talk about today fits nicely with the occasion, and that is the subject of music.
Music is powerful stuff, and people experience it and use it in different ways.
I want to relate some of my own insights gathered over the years as someone whose life was literally shaped by music.
I also want to talk about how we experience and use music in our daily lives, and in our worship.
We’ve all heard the expression STOP AND SMELL THE ROSES.
It’s almost a cliché, but it gets the point across.
Slow down. Take it easy. Look at the world around you and appreciate its beauty.
What I would offer is a variation on that theme, which is this: STOP AND FEEL THE MUSIC.
Notice I didn’t say “listen” to the music, or even “hear” the music.
Stop and FEEL the music.
Listening is a passive activity. You can listen anywhere – in the background, for instance, while you’re doing something else.
That sort of listening serves a purpose: maybe it provides a calming – or energizing – effect, depending on the kind of music you’re listening to.
It helps you get through whatever it is you’re doing at the time.
But FEELING music is something entirely different.
Then music becomes a thing that you interact with, a force.
A gateway to something bigger than what we normally experience in our daily lives.
There are different ways to feel music.
For one thing, you don’t need ears to feel music.
I’ll give you an example: there’s a famous Scottish percussionist named Evelyn Glennie, who is completely deaf. She’s been deaf since the age of twelve but has managed to become one of the world’s greatest percussionists.
She performs in her bare feet so she can feel the vibrations through the floor.
And she has talked publically about how her deafness has made her a better listener, and a better musician, because she’s been forced to think about and experience music in a different, more careful way.
So for Evelyn Glennie, every time she makes music it’s a “stop and feel” moment.
Now you might say, there’s music everywhere, we have all the music we need.
And that’s true, music is everywhere. There’s more of it now than ever in history.
And it’s easier to access than ever before.
In the old days, if people wanted to hear music, they made it themselves.
Or if they were rich, Like King Louis XIV of France, they hired musicians to follow them around all day long and play music on demand, to suit their mood.
Nowadays we keep hundreds of musicians on call, right in our pocket. On our phone, ready to jump up and play for us at the flick of a finger.
So music is everywhere. And music is powerful stuff, even on a casual level.
It can affect your mood, even your behavior.
Advertisers know that, which is why a lot of the music we hear every day is designed to sell us something.
Because there is so much music around us, we’re in a constant state of sensory overload.
We become de-sensitized. We take it for granted.
So if we want to experience that transformative power of music, we need to slow down. Take it easy, and really feel what the music means to us.
The simplest and most direct way to do that is to make your own music.
Whether it’s singing, playing an instrument, or writing it – the act of creating music yourself is empowering.
And if you’re creating it with other people, that shared activity of making music together can be a transformative experience.
It not only shows the world who we are on the inside, it communicates in a way that goes beyond the spoken word.
And by the way – you don’t need an Evelyn Glennie level of musicianship to do that.
Everyone can make music, and do it profoundly.
It doesn’t matter what your talent is, if your intent is sincere. I really believe that.
So just what are we “feeling” when we say ‘stop and feel’ the music?
First of all, music is a vessel. It carries a message.
Messages of love, despair, protest, acclamation – there are so many different expressions that are carried in and amplified by music, both secular and sacred.
As Christians, we use music to amplify our voices and by extension, our faith.
So what does the Bible say about music?
I’m not an expert, but I can offer a few examples.
The Bible mentions several musicians, especially the Old Testament. The earliest mention comes from the book of Genesis and a list of Cain’s descendants, one of which was named Jubal, who “was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe.”
There are songs by Moses, Solomon, and of course, the many Psalms by David – who literally had the power to drive away demons with his singing.
Music accompanies many worship activities in the Bible. We know that Jesus sang a hymn with his disciples at the Last Supper, and Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians tells us to “sing and make melody to the Lord with our hearts.”
Music not only carries a message of faith, it is an act of faith.
An act of celebration.
We celebrate by singing hymns. We lift our voices together to the Lord.
We make a joyful noise.
I want to draw your attention to today’s Psalm (146). I’d like to read again just the first verse:
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
This is the first of the last five Psalms, and they all begin and end with the exclamation Hallelujah! Praise the Lord.
That word “Hallelujah” has inspired countless musicians throughout history.
Think of the most famous setting – do you know it?
The Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah.
We hear it every year. We could probably sing it right now if we wanted to.
There’s a well-known story about the Hallelujah chorus. Well a couple of stories.
One is about King George, who supposedly was so moved when he heard the Hallelujah chorus that he stood up – which caused everyone else to stand as well.
That’s why audiences traditionally stand when they get to that part in Messiah.
It’s a great story and a great tradition, but… that story is probably not true.
There’s no evidence that King George ever attended a performance of Messiah.
What is true, though, is that Handel wrote Messiah in just 24 days.
259 pages of hand-written music.
A quarter of a million notes.
Someone did the math: If Handel worked 10 hours a day he would have had to write a continuous average of 15 notes per minute.
And not just any notes. Glorious, inspired, divine notes of music.
The other story about the Hallelujah chorus goes like this:
While Handel was writing Messiah, his friends often called on him but he was always busy, obsessed with writing his oratorio.
One day Handel’s servant came to check on him, knocked on the door, but got no answer.
Concerned, the servant opened the door and found Handel there, holding pages of music in his hands with tears streaming down his cheeks.
When the servant asked him what was wrong, Handel told him that Heaven had opened up in front of him, and he had seen the face of God.
He was holding the Hallelujah Chorus in his hands.
Now when you hear the Hallelujah chorus with that story in mind, or when you attend a performance of Messiah knowing the inspiration behind it, it changes how you experience the music.
How you feel the music.
That is a miracle.
The story of music is often the story of miracles.
I feel like music has been working miracles in my life for as long as I can remember.
Since the age of six weeks, I was raised by my paternal Grandmother.
I can still hear her singing and dancing to songs she made up herself, usually in the kitchen when she was making dinner.
She even made up words. She wrote poetry, yes, but when I say she “made up” words, she did just that – created her own words to fit her songs.
Most of those songs were about God. She was a very religious person and attended the Methodist church faithfully.
Of course she brought me with her every Sunday – which I wasn’t so happy about at the time, but now, I’m glad she did.
So my Grandmother – who adopted me, by the way, so I call her my Mother – she was my introduction to making music.
My mother recognized my musical talent and even though we were of very modest means, she found a way to support my music and musical education.
She worked past retirement age and saved and scraped so I could have a piano and take lessons. So I could take voice lessons and sing in a Boys’ Choir and go on tour with them across the country.
She lived to be 95 years old and was able to see me make a career and life for myself in music, and for that I will always be grateful.
But the fact that I ended up with her, and that she saw the importance of encouraging my talent – because she knew the power of music, through the church, and through her own songs which gave her such joy – the fact we were given to each other, I consider that a miracle.
And it’s one of the reasons I care so deeply about music, and its power and potential for our lives.
It’s also a reason I am so grateful for music, and for the opportunity I have been given here at St. Paul’s, to make music together and to share it with others.
We have a miracle this morning, in the return of the organ after a 31 week absence.
Music has not been absent, of course. We still sang hymns and made music together and raised a joyful noise – but the organ compliments and amplifies our worship in a way that transcends the human voice.
It’s not to be taken for granted.
Last Sunday evening we had a wonderful community dinner here with members of All Saints Episcopal Church.
It’s a very small parish, just a dozen or so members, and they’ve been without a Priest for some time. They’ve also been without a choir and an organist.
Chuck Roberts is the warden of All Saints, and he told us that most of the time their hymns are sung “a capella” – without any instrumental accompaniment.
And he went on to talk about how he loves a capella singing. That it brings the people closer to Christ when they use their voices alone to express their faith.
It was an intimate, heartfelt and powerful moment for him share that with us. And when we joined hands and sang hymns together that night, we felt every moment of that music.
Two final thoughts:
Again, music made through the most modest of means can also be the most profound. The congregation at All Saints, my mother dancing and singing in the kitchen… Jesus and his disciples singing a hymn at the Last Supper> These are powerful, profound expressions of faith through music.
Secondly, we are blessed beyond measure to have the resources we do, to complement our faith through music and to amplify our joyful noise.
So as we approach Thanksgiving, we’ll be reflecting more than usual on the things that we’re grateful for.
There are many things to be grateful for, but today, I am grateful for the blessing of music.
For the opportunity to make music it together. For the choir, for Jane and all who offer their talents.
And for the chance to stop, listen, and feel the music all around us.