Tuesday, October 18, 2005

the listening unto deafness

This weekend my buddy Knox and I are leading a 60-person retreat at Shrine Mont (the Episcopal retreat center near the border of West Virginia) with the theme "God on the FM Dial: Finding the Sacred in Secular Music." We spent a good bit of the night talking through tunes and artists - U2, Nickel Creek, Coldplay, Steve Earle, Ben Folds, etc. There are lots of cool specifics that we discussed...for example, the Coldplay song "A Message" takes it's first two lines (both melody AND lyrics) from the Anglican hymn "My Song Is Love Unknown," tune by John Ireland. Kind of interesting, regardless of its meaning or your own personal belief set.

But the thing that really struck me is how music can simultaneously be so powerful and so inconsequential. Think about it. A little over 100 years ago, you only heard music if someone was actually sitting in front of you playing an instrument or singing. How often might that have happened then? Once a day? Once a week? Think about how often you hear music now. It's in our cars. Our offices. Our bedrooms. The elevator. The grocery store. Every minute. We have stereos, iPods, radios, everywhere - you can't escape it without tremendous effort.

This is the greatest triumph and greatest tragedy to befall the transcendent power of music. On the one hand, how amazing is it that we can hear the clearest, most beautiful recordings of our favorite pieces any time we want with a mere flick of the finger on our iPods? On the other hand, the fact that music is so ubiquitous dilutes its power and turns it into a sort of white noise soundtrack to our lives, the static that we tend to tune out. I can't tell you how many times I've been driving along and had no idea what I've been listening to for the past 15 minutes - not because it was bad, but because I was just ignoring it.

So if you're reading this and you can relate, do something tomorrow: try to go the whole day without hearing music. Turn off your car stereo, don't turn on the radio at work, mute the TV during commmercials...and before you go to bed, sit down and listen to something really great, and do it with intention and purpose. Doesn't matter if it's Bach or the Clash, Jeff Buckley or Patsy Cline. Whatever moves you, take the time to hear it as if you're listening for the first time.

Personal favorite for today: Beethoven's 7th Symphony 2nd Movement

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