Not too long ago, I listened to an interview on public radio's "Studio 360" with Marvin Hamlisch. He was talking primarily about composing the music for various films, including his most recent work for "The Informant." It was interesting to hear him describe the process of thinking about a character and having a musical motif simply come to mind. The host went so far as to describe it as a kind of synesthesia.
I don't think of myself as a composer, though I dabble in small things for church. But I think the truly great composers think primarily in a musical language that is their mother tongue, in the way Hamlisch is describing. They hear text and immediately translate it into music; they feel an emotion and hear a melody.
Church music is elevated prayer, whether or not it includes text. At its best, it is the sublime expression of praise and penitence, prayer and proclamation. Of course, Hamlisch composed music for "A Chorus Line," which encapsulates this process in the medium of dance. In particular, the song "Music and the Mirror" talks about expression through dance. I'll close with a portion of that song's lyrics today:
Give me somebody to dance with.
Give me a place to fit in.
Help me return to the world of the living
By showing me how to begin.
Play me the music.
Give me a chance to come through.
All I ever needed was the music, and the mirror,
And the chance to dance for you.