Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Music for Lent

A few years ago during Lent, I read Gordon Giles, The Harmony of Heaven, in which he took a piece of music for every day in Lent, and explored it in the context of a scripture. It's a gem of a book with some profound insights into music and theology and I've gone back to it on numerous occasions and drawn on some of his material.

Later in March I've been asked to speak at a Sunday evening ecumenical service in one of our Baptist churches, as part of a series on the arts, considering the contribution composers have made to Lent. I'm looking forward to it, but the realisation has dawned that it's a bit of a challenge! In the tradition of many churches, purely instrumental music is forbidden during Lent, and apart from the Common Psalms of Lent, (Ps's. 51, 91 and 130) upon which a number of pieces are based, most notably the Allegri, Miserere, there's not a vast amount of material. Now if it was Holy Week I'd be spoiled for choice, although one of the Passions by Bach might be a good start, and certainly an excellent finish. 

So, I'm intending to include a number of pieces that I associate with Lent, that I'll play and reflect upon, and I may include some of my thoughts here, after the event if not before. This will involve selecting not obviously religious music (of which there's little) but music which for me makes some connection.  

Sister Wendy Beckett, who presented programmes on TV about art suggests that religious art falls into three categories: religious art which takes obviously religious themes; spiritual art which may also be religious, yet goes beyond the religious subject and speaks to us at a deeper level; and sacred art, which depicts reality as it is 'beneath the surface'. I find this helpful although I wonder whether the difference between the spiritual and sacred is a bit too close. It seems to me that in musical terms there's music which is obviously religious and may be spiritual too, but there's music which isn't necessarily religious but is spiritual in that it finds a deep resonance in an individual. For example, many people with no religious conviction find the St Matthew Passion deeply spiritual, and others have a similar experience with the music of John Coltrane. It's about listening to music with a spiritual filter, or to change the analogy, a theological ear.  Essentially this is what Gordon Giles has done in his book.

I'd love to hear of music that in the context of Lent finds a resonance in you, and just to add, I'm open to all genres.


maggi said...

hi Geoff! Gordon and I were at College together, he's great, he did a similar book for Advent a few years back, which I'm sure you would like too.

Rachel said...

Wow what an interesting idea. I'd love to know what pieces you include. I'm going to have to start thinking ...