Saturday, December 06, 2014

The Powers of Music

My wife and I were sitting discussing music on the way home from the Brule concert last Sunday. What had struck us was the similarity of some of the Native America-style music that sounded very similar to ancient music we call "Plainsong" or "Chant." We thought about how in all kinds of places in the world the plainsong-style of music was a very basic and foundational style. At times it is played on different tonalities with different types of scales that are far different from what we in the more modern west are used to. It is still the same style, though. It most often has a single melodic line and a free flow to it that carries the words or tones from one to the other in an almost unbroken tune.

We kept thinking about what it is that makes "chant"-style music so foundational? Whether antiphonal where a line or musical phrase is sung by one group then repeated by another (cantor and congregation, for example) or when all sing the melody together, it is a powerful style.

I thought on my own experience in liturgy as a worshiper. Several of the old hymns of the church came to mind as well as the style of the Anglican/Episcopal liturgy I participate in during worship. I realized that what I experience is that movement of the music within me. It lifts me, it touches something within the neurology of my brain and takes me into a different state of mind.

There are all kinds of studies that show that we are born with a musical sense. Other studies have discovered the impact of music in all kinds of settings from pediatric ICU to Alzheimer units. Perhaps it is somewhere in there that we have a cross-cultural, human instinct that comes out more naturally in chant or plainsong.

Sure it can be boring and put us to sleep. That isn't all bad. Listen to O Come Immanuel in a basic chant style or even Silent Night for that matter. Check out some Bach pieces and see that they are at times based on that same style.

Then, as the music on my 1Tunes shuffle switched to an antiphonal style, the chant begins to take on a multiple layered feel. That's where we got the idea of harmony. What an amazing gift music is- and it is always within us.

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