Saturday, October 9, 2010

Music that Moves the Heart

Last night Jaimie and I went to a Trace Bundy concert in Tulsa—$60 for the tickets, four hours of driving (and the associated tank of gas), and the cost of coffee and ice cream so I could stay awake for the drive home, all for about an hour and a half of music. It was absolutely worth it. Trace Bundy is an outstanding artist, who writes the sort of relaxing music that you could fall asleep to if only it weren't so interesting and his technique so astounding. I had been up since 4:30 am, but my eyes were glued to his fingers as he pulled seemingly impossible combinations out of the frets of his acoustic guitar.

I own every non-Christmas album the man has published, and seeing him in person blew me away. I have heard almost every song he played last night (the backwards arrangement of "Happy Birthday" was a new one), and still I found myself engrossed, enthralled by the music coming from the stage. The man has a lot of talent.

He's also humble, putting his sense of humor to good use in establishing ties with his audience and knocking down any hint of pretentiousness. One of the most interesting moments in the concert was his description of the meaning behind his "Love Song"—a reminder to do things he does out of love. He smiled quietly and finished, "After all: if I'm the best guitar player you've ever seen and I don't have love, I am nothing" (a quiet but definite reference to 1 Corinthians 13:1-3). The song has always been one of my favorites. Now it tops the list.

Music is a powerful thing. At its best, it moves us out of ourselves, opens our eyes a little more to the majesty and mystery of the universe. No one, I think, has expressed this more clearly than J. R. R. Tolkien. The opening of The Silmarillion is his creation story for the grand myth he created. The Creator God, Eru Ilúvatar, has composed a grand symphony for the Valar and Maiar (angels) to sing the universe into being—but Melkor, the greatest of his servants, has begun a rebellion in the heavens, and sings discord into the melody Eru has created ("it came into the heart of Melkor to interweave matters of his own imagining that were not in accord with the theme of Ilúvatar; for he sought therein to increase the power and glory of the part assigned to himself"). The Creator God's response has always rung true to me:

But Ilúvatar sat and harkened until it seemed that about his throne there was a raging storm, as of dark waters that made war one upon another in an endless wrath that would not be assuaged.

Then Ilúvatar arose, and the Ainur [angels] perceived that he smiled; and he lifted up his left hand, and a new theme began amid the storm, like and yet unlike the former theme, and it gathered power and had new beauty. But the discord of Melkor rose in uproar and contended with it, and again there was a war of sound more violent than before, until many of the Ainur were dismayed and sang no longer, and Melkor had the mastery. Then gain Ilúvatar arose, and the Ainur perceived that his countenance was stern; and he lifted up his right hand, and behold! a third theme grew amid the confusion, and it was unlike the others. For it seemed at first soft and sweet, a mere rippling of gentle sounds in delicate melodies; but it could not be quenched, and it took to itself power and profundity. And it seemed at last that there were two musics progressing at one time before the seat of Ilúvatar, and they were utterly at variance. The one was deep and wide and beautiful, but slow and blended with an immeasurable sorrow, from which its beauty chiefly came. The other had now achieved a unity of its own; but it was loud, and vain, and endlessly repeated; and it had little harmony, but rather a clamorous unison as of many trumpets braying upon a few notes. And it essayed to drown the other music by the violence of its voice, but it seemed that its most triumphant notes were taken by the other and woven into its own solemn pattern.

In the midst of this strife, whereat the halls of Ilúvatar shook and a tremor ran out into the silences yet unmoved, Ilúvatar arose a third time, and his face was terrible to behold. Then he raised up both his hands, and in one chord, deeper than the Abyss, higher than the Firmament, piercing as the light of the eye of Ilúvatar, the Music ceased.

Then Ilúvatar spoke, and he said: "Mighty are the Ainur, and mightest among them is Melokor; but that he may know, and all the Ainur, that I am Ilúvatar, those things that ye have sung, I will show them forth, that ye may see what ye have done. And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.

The passage goes on from there, and much of the rest of it is interesting as well. I remain stunned by that first image of God creating through music, and particularly the picture of God's sovereignty expressed in music, so that even the greatest thing the Enemy can create is in the end to the greater glory of God's music.

Though of course in our world God created by word and not by song, we know that God made music as well. We know that the music we create, the music that we love to listen to, the music that moves our souls, is an echo of the music God has made. We know that our hearts respond to music the way they do because God delights in music, too, and because he has made us to be moved by beauty. The same is true for every kind of art.

For too long, Christians have let art be the purview of the world. We need to remember that art is God's, and that means it is good. We need more people willing to make the sacrifice to be an outstanding artist—to be willing to be "impractical" at times and work hard at making good art, even if other jobs might pay better or be more stable. Art is good.


  1. I'm definitely going to check into that guy's music! Thanks for the passage from Tolkien.

  2. I have long loved that passage from Tolkien. The entire opening chapter/prologue to The Silmarillion ought to be required reading for every Christian artist. It's brilliant.


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