Random Blog Clay Feet: 2009-09
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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What Is Music?

Yesterday I had a question come into my mind that I couldn't answer.

What is music?

I mean, what really defines whether something is music or just noise. I am not looking for the passionate responses of conservatives who are eager to share their prejudices against music they don't like. What I am curious about is very literally what makes the difference between simply talking or other forms of sounds and what is generally recognized by most humans as being music.

Why does extending pitches using words (or without words) make music so different than simply speaking? And obviously there seems to be the need to string these various pitches one after another in various lengths of time with some rhythmic organization to make it more recognizable as being music.

And beyond that, why does music has such enormous impact on our psyche and our feelings at times whereas simply speaking seldom is able to deliver nearly such impact?

I couldn't answer these questions yesterday for whatever reasons. So I simply left it hanging and then frankly forget that it had ever crossed my mind until this morning. Then something that happened last night at chorus practice came back into my attention and I heard God maybe say to me, “That is the real definition of music.”

During our weekly practice period of the Barbershop chorus and just after the break time last night, our director, Tom wanted to share with us a video clip of a quartet he sang with during a contest some time back. He and his son were privileged to sing with two champion musicians making up a quartet where they sang two songs in contest that made a very deep impression on him. Both Tom and his son Tim work together in directing our chorus. This man has a deep passion for people and is very effective at making people feel good about themselves and affirming them. His spontaneous comments and affirmations seem to just come from nowhere at times and creates bonds in people's minds and hearts that keep them wanting to come back week after week, year after year.

Music is a very important part of life for both of these men, and even though his son is adopted they share a deep love for Barbershop music and great respect for each other. Tim is currently in training to be a fully accredited judge for contests following in the footsteps of his father who has been a judge for many years. They have very different personalities and styles of directing, but they both have great skill and passion both for the music and for encouraging men to be inspired to be better than the average.

The video clip that Tom wanted to share with us last night was of a song this quartet sang called “Singing with Dad”. Before he showed it to us he explained that during this presentation he felt intense emotions like he had never experienced in his life before. They became so caught up in the music together with the two champion singers on either side of them that they didn't even think about the choreography needed to express the song correctly, they just poured themselves into the music and let whatever gestures happen that felt natural in the process. Interestingly, as we watched the replay it appeared that their gestures matched very well with those of the other two men who sang with them.

As all of the local chorus watched this video with great interest, especially given the context of the introduction comments from our director, I began to see some of why he said that he had never felt this much excitement in his whole life – which is saying a great deal for him. For the words of the song conveyed quite dramatically the emotions of a person who had come to deeply appreciate a common passion for quartet music that he shared with the passion of his own father who had sung for years in a quartet before him. The song talked about the joy and satisfaction of singing in the same quartet with his own dad – which had great added emphasis because in fact, what the song was describing so accurately was actually taking place in real time as this father-son team lived out just what they were singing about.

Watching the video was compelling and deeply moving for me and maybe for others there. I sensed various levels of recognition and emotional connection among the men watching the video, and the spontaneous applause after the second song was finished spoke of more than just polite praise for a good rendition. The emotion in the room by that time had become significantly noticeable and could not easily be put into words effectively.

This morning as that memory came back to me I seemed to hear God say,

Remember that question you had yesterday about music? Well, here is at least part of the answer. Music is the means whereby passion is wrapped about words that gives the potential to bring them to life, to take them into a whole different dimension of existence. Music is the means whereby words can take on enormous power to express far more effectively what the heart is feeling but the head simply cannot convey effectively through simply words or any other means.

Thank-you. That answer rings so true, especially for people who's lives are wired a little more for music beyond the average person. I have always felt that music could allow me to convey things that was impossible to do in any other way. And I also intuitively knew that music could have the potential to also bond me to other people in ways that simply cannot happen otherwise. Likewise, music also has the ability to convey the presence of emotions and bonds already in place that words simply cannot come close to conveying. And on top of that, when words and music are properly synchronized and are congruent with each other, the amazing power of music actually amplifies and intensifies those emotions and bonds – as clearly seen in that video we watched last night.

As I watched the father and son standing close to each other and pouring themselves into the music that talked about a deep connection between a son and a dad sharing the same passion for music, it was unmistakable that they meant every word they were singing and more. And it could also be seen that the emotional connection between them was actually intensifying through that public expression of this emotion that they were describing. Their feelings were being synchronized, their words were congruent with all the other forms of expression surrounding those words and the effect was far more powerful than simply trying to speak and describe what their hearts wanted to convey or even to sing about something they were not personally experiencing.

This potentially speaks volumes to me. I have struggled all of my life to both listen to my own heart and to find ways to allow it effective expression. My communication skills for allowing my heart access to the outside have been severely damaged as many people's have been, so it is no surprise that I feel a great deal of frustration when people don't understand me or misinterpret my motives or confuse what I am trying to say. Sometimes we long for other people to just be able to read our mind, but we know that we have to find other ways of connecting with other hearts.

Maybe this is telling me that the passion for music that filled much of my life when I was a teenager has been largely suppressed and is now unused along with my heart's ability to connect with others very effectively. Maybe the passion that God implanted in the heart can only find more efficient expression when it is allowed to be released in the context of music that is congruent with the inner passions. I am not trying to address the issues of good music verses bad music here. Clearly there are different forms and effects of music. But at its core I can see more clearly again that music itself has the amazing capacity to transfer or even induce ideas, thoughts and feelings from one heart into others that simply cannot occur by any other means.

So I continue to chip away at the barriers and fears and obstacles that keep my own heart caged in and also prevent me from connecting more directly with the passion that flows from the heart of the One who created music to begin with. I have heard that heaven is filled with music. And if the above insights are true, then I can see why that would have to be the case. I have seen some people who are so afraid of the enormous power of music to affect our souls that they run from it instead of learning to understand it or how to relate to it effectively.

I know that I miss very much the times when I participated in musical groups that seemed to have some level of closer integration through the music and praise that we presented together. And I look forward to times in the future when I may be able to experience similar experiences that are even richer and deeper and more purely defined so that my own heart will be able to find freer expression and be able to connect with other hearts and the heart of God as it is designed to do.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Meatgrinders

Well, it is now official.

I am scheduled to submit myself to the meat processors to have my sausages worked on.

I have never done this kind of thing before and it seems a bit strange for a lifetime vegetarian like me to be messing around with sausages.

O.K. So most people put different labels on this. But really, what's in a label? So it sounds more civilized to call it a hospital instead of a meat processing plant. Don't they all deal with the same stuff?

I am supposed to go in the first of October so they can rearrange my innards that have apparently gotten too far disarranged and in the wrong places. I discovered about a week ago that I have a hernia and though I have heard rumors that there possibly might be some outside chance of curing it through some other means, I have decided this time to surrender to the medical system and our society's expectations about how to deal with such things and let them slice me open and have at it.

I really hope that while I am coming out of anesthesia that I don't reveal too many deep dark secrets that the nurses refuse to let me know about later. If I do I at least hope that I could hear about them myself so I could know what they are too. Other than that, I am supposed to be back home within 6-8 hours of when I arrive very early in the morning. My how times have changed. They don't even give you long extended periods of pampering in the hospital like they used to do.

So if any of you are so inclined (not sure there are any “you's” that might even read this), you can take this opportunity to indulge my weakened condition to feel terribly sorry for me and heap upon me all sorts of gifts, attentions and affections that I probably would never receive otherwise.

Well, I can try, can't I?

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Of Roofs and Thumbs

I have been in the roofing activity for the past couple weeks. Two of us shingled an 8/12 pitch roof in two days finishing up by flashlight one night without using any cleats or ropes. Then around that job we have been working on a large equipment shed roof at an grain elevator repairing a lot of rotten wood and preparing it for a new steel roof. Last week my helper fell through a rotten place in the roof but providentially did not go all the way down where he would have been seriously hurt. He caught himself by his elbows on the purloins and was able to hang on until he could get maneuvered around to get his feet onto some supporting rafters and climb out.

Last Friday we almost finished placing all the steel panels on the roof and now just need to screw them all down. However it has started raining and I don't know when we can finish it. We will see how much rain or dry weather we have when tomorrow comes around.

Thursday morning as I was getting ready to leave for work I was trying to let one of our tomcats into the house as we do each morning so we can let our other cats out during the day. When I opened the front screen door our other tomcat was standing just inside and they both found themselves facing each other quite unexpectedly. Instinctively I reached down to pick up the outside cat to get him away from getting into a fight but instead I received a very deep bite into my thumb which started bleeding profusely.

I finished getting the cats where they belonged and then ran water over my thumb for awhile while it hurt more and more. I put a little cream and a bandage on it and went to work. By noon my thumb had swollen up like a balloon and was starting to hurt in my hand and arm. One of the men I work for much of the time became very concerned and arranged for me to get a prescription from a doctor for an antibiotic that I picked up that evening on the way home.

My thumb continued to tighten up and immobilize over the next day or so. Yesterday it was so stiff that it felt like a wooden attachment connected to my hand that just sent pain through the lower muscles connected to it whenever I moved it too much. Most of the time it doesn't hurt very much except when I bump it on something which then sets off all kinds of alarms and bells and whistles.

Last night I put Tea Tree Oil on it which I wish I had thought about right after it happened. A friend of mine reminded me of this at church and I believe it could accomplish more good than most of the other things we have tried like charcoal and clay. It is still quite swollen and useless at this point and I am discovering the need to do all sorts of things differently without the use of a thumb. Buttoning shirts becomes a little more interesting and even holding a spoon is sometimes a challenge. Trying to write with a pen takes some concentration and I have to slow down a bit.

I am grateful that it is not much worse than it is. I am even very blessed that it has caused me so little actual pain considering the amount of infection involved. I thought about taking a picture of it and posting it with this but then thought better. Most people are not that interested in being grossed out with that kind of image.

Yesterday after church we showed a video about the discovery of the real Mt. Sinai for those who wanted to stay and watch it. I find this video very fascinating and compelling and wonder why so may so-called experts are averse to even considering the overwhelming evidence presented here. It seems to me to be a clear case of deep professional prejudice and fear of what others might think overriding obvious evidence both Biblically and scientifically of truth disproving the current beliefs about Mt. Sinai.

After that we stayed around and talked for several hours about spiritual issues which I always find refreshing with those willing to think and dialog openly. I am praying for our church members to become more hungry to know God and to seek Him on a personal basis instead of being satisfied with just going through religious routines each week. I want to see more and more people get serious about having a personal, vital relationship with God on an individual basis that will result in bonding with others who are doing likewise. I believe this is God's plan for His people and I want to be a part of it.