The Impact of Music on My Spiritual Life

Before we begin our survey of the development of liturgical music in Christianity as it relates to the Bible, I want to share with you the impact that music has had upon my own spiritual life. When I was at college, studying vocal and instrumental music, I was introduced to ideas quite different from the religious environment with which I was familiar.  At one point, as part of the rebellion that I had delayed through high school, I told my father, a Seventh Day Baptist minister, that I thought that Augustine was as inspired as many of the writers of the Bible. It perhaps made the point that I had discovered that the canonization of the Bible occurred in history by the action of men, yes, actually men.  But, it was an ignorant statement.  I had never read Augustine, and when I later did read his work, I found him too much the root of Christian fundamentalism through the almost two millennia that followed him. Too doctrinaire for my views today.  I discovered Eric Fromm, studied sociology and the impact of our social environment upon each of us individually, and I studied psychology and the impact of conditioning, environment, volition and much more which caused me to examine who I was, why I was that person, and what choice I had about who I might beome.  Actually, I learned more from Eric Fromm than from that psychology class.

With so much new information, I was excited to explore other ideas that were foreign to my experience as a child and adolescent. One of the things that caused me some concern was this question: “What if I die when I am doubting?”  In childhood one of the fundamental messages that I got was that we are “saved by faith.” What if I lost my faith? What if I died doubting?  I am sure that is not unique to me or to Christianity.

In about my third year of college I was studying the tenor aria from Mendelssohn’s oratorio, Elijah: “If with all your hearts ye truly seek me, ye shall ever surely find me, thus saith our God.”  I do find Augustine perceptive and he has left a number of jewels, not the least of which I have used in this blog: “He who sings, twice prays.”  Reading a text is one thing, but putting it to music and singing it fixes it in one’s soul and sets it to flight.  Singing the recitative and aria gave me great hope.  If God wanted me to grow, I would have to let go of some old, comfortable ideas that did not so well fit the world that I had discovered. God understands that (if there is any part of God that is like a human being’s understanding).  I felt safe to seek. I felt assured that if I honestly sought the Divine in life, I would surely find it.  The insight and encouragement that I received from that aria back in the 70’s has stayed with me, and I am now age 64. That experience has influenced my respect for others and for many different religions.  I do not see that the Divine is limited to any set of beliefs or religion; rather, the message that I get from the New Testamentis is that Jesus said not to worry in whose and what name people show love and caring of others, or do their miracles of love; but “by their fruits you will know them.”  Love of neighbor is like love of the Divine.

I will post two YouTube videos performance of that aria that has had particular meaning for me.

The first is a college student, a tenor, accompanied on piano, which would be very similar to my performance of it, except that I could only hope to have approached the quality of his voice and performance:

The second expresses my vision of what “I could have done with an orchestra” (if I only had his vocal and expressive talents):

I sang that aria in several churches and at my audition for the chorus of Opera Omaha and thereafter until the late 1970s when I had surgery on my vocal chords. I have often thought of the aria both because of its beauty and because of its assurance.

For a magnificent complete performance of the oratorio, Elijah, by the Boston University College of Fine Arts, see .

With the next blog, we will continue our journey through time with the music of the Christian church and its contribution to Western music.  Hopefully, those readers of other faiths, be they Abrahamic or not, will find something here that touches their hearts and inspires them.

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