Artis Divina - Where Artists find ways to follow God

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Meditating on Themes in Music, and with Music

With the advent of digital technologies to play and replay music, whether it is a CD or MP3 player that can sample or repeat a track passage of any length, or your computer which can repeat them too, there is a magic that comes from repetitively listening to music that is targeted to bring you into the presence, or the mind of God. The repetition is helpful in keeping your mind directed towards the subject of the lyrics, (whether they are sung or unsung, as long as you know them...)
The repetition is helpful in keeping your mind directed towards the subject of the lyrics, Oh, did I just repeat myself...? :-) The repetition helps me focus on God' and God's attributes, which is where we need to concentrate our thoughts, and not so much on what God will do for me, or has done for me. This meditation on God's person, helps us remove ourselves from the equation, and give credit where it is due, not to ourselves, in any way.

On occasion, there have been a few songs that have struck me so deeply on my first listening, that I have listened to it repeatedly for a couple of hours. (And this may seem incredible, but if you're struck dumb by beauty, it can work that way...), and I have continued to come back to these musical pieces for sustenance and Beauty.

One such musical piece that struck me, and made me completely incapable of doing anything but be entranced by it, was a live broadcast of "A Simple Song", from the Mass, by Leonard Bernstein. (Which I fortunately recorded) The Male vocalist had just the right tonality, and delivery, that made me melt into the lyrics, and into the musical simplicity, and the melodies that were slightly and flirtatiously atonal. The closest commercially available recording I've found to that first version I heard, is sung by Peter Hoffman, and conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas:

Mass, theatre piece for singers, players, & dancers A Simple Song

and here's another link for realplayer:
One Minute Clip

Another song that I have used while in the Studio making Artworks has been the song by Michelle Bloom, "When I survey" (the wondrous Cross). I found that I could play this piece of music literally, all day long, repetitively... Sure, I would get a tad bored, but I was intentionally placing my thoughts upon the Cross, through the song. My mind could come and go, in my noticing and interaction with the song, but it was there, all the time, and I could pay attention to it, or get wrapped up in my work for awhile, and then later, reconnect with it... and this helped me meditate on the message , and helped me to pray, all throughout the day. I've not been able to find an audio clip, but here's her website, and you'll need to write to her to buy a copy of the CD, or the song...

Here are some other pieces of music, or songs that I have been using in this way, and playing for either just the length of the recording, or playing for extended repetition:

Gavin Bryars' piece, "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet", a 74 minute piece formed around a street man/drunk singing an old hymn accapella, that repeats for the entire 74 minutes, and is accompanied for the recording by a full compliment of musicians, and later by Tom Waits.
You can find some of the background to the recording at Gavin's website, under the discography:

Here is the recording:

In the same vein, and by the same artists, is Gavin Bryars', "The Sinking of the Titanic", that uses the Episcopalian Hymn, "Autumn" as the foundation for a repetitively slow changing and long piece that purposefully sounds as if the musicians are playing underwater.

Other pieces of Music that I use in alone times with God are nature sounds, and some of what people call "New Age" type music, that is essentially slowly moving music without words. This might be something like the idiosyncratic, global soundscapes of Stephan Micus:

I have mentioned all of the works above, because these works are very far from being in the prominent public eye, and would probably be completely hidden, were it not for friends recommending them to other friends... :-)

I pray that these words and music can bring your times with God to a different level, and bring your mind closer to focusing on God.

Grace and Peace to you. Paul


Blogger Gem Fadling said...


I love your website. Lately, God has been speaking to me mostly in the area of my creative side. I have been drawn to Anneke Kaai, old poetry, long-standing hymns and simple worship. I have used repetitive worship recently as well. I have actually used Michelle Bloom's song many times. The simplicity of her voice and the words are incredible! I am listening to it right now - you reminded me how much I love that song.

I look forward to sampling some of your suggestions.

Thanks again, Gem

1:46 PM  

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