Further Thoughts on Sacred Music

On my run this morning, I listened to a version of “Simple Gifts” from Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Springtime. I had the thought that, just as sacred places for me are not necessarily related to churches, so it is with music. There are pieces of music that touch me deeply and give me a sense of God’s presence. What occurred to me this morning was that many of those pieces have nothing to do with church.

You might object, saying that “Simple Gifts” is based on a Shaker hymn and you would be right. But I came to know that beautiful piece through Aaron Copeland’s symphony, not through a church.

There are other pieces of music that seem to give me a glimmer of the Divine.

I first encountered “Jupiter” from Gustav Holst’s Planets when I was back East spending time with my mother just prior to her death. There was something about “Jupiter” that captured that moment for me. My mother faced her death with stoicism and faith, a truly wondrous event to witness. The music of “Jupiter” captured the grandeur of that moment.

I first heard the second movement of Antonin Dvorak’s New World Symphony on a PBS series America hosted by Alistair Cook. Cook shared with us the inspiration for that piece coming from Dvorak’s moment of encounter with the great prairies of the U.S. Midwest. Since then, that piece has often played in my head when I encounter some wondrous part of nature. When I encountered El Capitan at Yosemite, I heard that piece. When I came to a beach in Southeast Ireland near the Skelligs and saw that the beach was untouched, I felt Dvorak’s music with me.

My encounters with the ocean always bring to mind Claud Debussey’s Clair de Lune. Granted, Debussey has another piece titled Le Mer but Clair de Lune for me captures the peacefulness of waves washing the beach with perhaps a fog horn in the distance.

Finally, though I hate war and all it has done to us, I have to admit that my heart soars with the ending of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, fireworks, cannons, and all.

I stand in awe that God gives us so many avenues through which we can experience His/Her magnificence. For me, great musical works are one of those avenues.

REFLECTION: Are there any pieces of non-church music that speak to you of God?