Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Simple Devotions and Gifts

Simple Gifts
Tony E Dillon-Hansen
July 2013

Question posed to me at recent meeting of church deacons to examine where one finds “God” in our lives. My response is simple and perhaps a shared response via music. In my time, I have studied music theory and composition at university. I have written music and performed music. I enjoy great many different styles of music as a listener of the various tunes belting from both recorded and, especially, live performances.

Aside from a meal, can you think of anything that will bring disparate and politically divided people to common areas or common venues?  One could argue that sports business brings in a ton of money for athletes and the marketers trying to sell the game far beyond an average (or staring artist) can manage. Yet, sports-minded people invigorate prejudices and egos of home teams and favorite players. Yes, many of these have or made their talents be worthy of grandeur; they are still inciting a sense of competition among the population.

I cannot discount the interest in having good competition among people nor that of sports in general (I partake in many amateur sports competitions). Yet, athletes, and the money surrounding some sports, can cause a rise above simple team love into forceful persuasion of beliefs.  Many referees can attest to this.  Even with music, a good performer will find followers and people willing to pay good money to watch a performance.  Some will debate the talent of a particular performer or writer, but when crowds come to see this performer(s), ticket holders (whether paid or free) come with a common interest to hear what that performer can deliver.

American football Super Bowl can be an exhilarating event if you are one of the athletes or if your team is one that is playing. Even among team fans, there could be argued that there is a sense of comradeship that is revealed that is above petty politics or some other gross discrimination for at least the length of the game.

With music, many people of different stripes share an interest in a style of music and a performer. With exception of musicians that have gone “openly” political, audiences go to watch a performance of some piece that became their soul, their song, their passion or their release. A musician brings people together, not just because they enjoy a melody but because the song became a part of them.

Interestingly, sports teams replay Queen’s “We Are the Champions” because we, as fans, want to hear and to ultimately see that music revealed in our teams. Note, however, that Queen gave the fan a verse to sing about love of team. Trumpets and drums are used to summon a call to arms. Even, political campaigns play songs with themes of better times because the orator, especially of lower skill, wants you to have the feeling that what he or she is saying is going to make you feel “better”.  These happen because music invokes common passions and inspires.

Music can bring people of divergent opinions of all sorts together in a venue without a need to be competing with each other.  There might be the occasional impromptu fashion debates or etiquette quarrels. When people come to watch a musician, there is an interest in what that musician delivers to our hearts through performance of the pieces. That is because in that moment of music enjoyment, the competition of the world is quieted for a moment.

We may lead "lives of quiet desperation", but music allows us to live in a moment fully when we find that one song, that one melody, or that one harmony that fills our hearts with all that we were missing. Yet, unlike Thoreau, we do not need to let the music go to the grave with us nor do we need to lose the uncanny companionship that we gain from mutual music interests.

Just as diverse as opinions about politics can be, so also can our passions about music be. Yet, no one would draw a gun over how someone tickles the piano or beats a drum. Even traffic can have a sense of beautiful orchestration when we allow ourselves to be with the world and our senses. Electronic themes over riffs (acoustic or electronic) can be an escape for anyone willing to hear what is being played. What we can learn from music is more than notes on a page, melodies, rhythms, or tempos, but we can even learn how we as humans have mutual interests in different ways from different paths.

There are aspects in our lives that showcase competition among human beings along with community like sports. There are also forms in our lives that show us how things are connected to each other with or without competition. Music is one of those forms, especially considering some of the best music in the world often combines a theme (point) and counterpoint in artful detail. An argument without punches. The confluence of theme, counter patterns, randomness and competition can be found in music, and the good writer leaves some of the work for listener to interpret how that applies to you.

Good artists let you do some of the interpreting, to make the song yours, and thus, the theme can resonate with people of different social or political backgrounds. In this world of polarized communities, is it not nice to see a conductor on the podium who can show how all of this can work together with a whisk of the baton or how a soloist can move an entire crowd to tears with slow ballad? Certain politicians would do well to realize how trivial differences are. 

The world is connected, and music can showcase that connection. Maybe, that is a simple gift, and perhaps, that is an example of how one might find God, which we can always cherish.