Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Understanding Bach

One of the comments from last week's Bach debate was basically that his music is too difficult. Not everyone can hear what's going on in his complicated fugues. The hymn tune can get lost in ornamentation, and it's generally a new sound for most people.

I'd like to draw an analogy to visual art in our churches. There are church traditions that have vehemently rejected all forms of idols, icons, and representation, largely the American Puritans and their spiritual descendents, along with the Mormon church. The difference between a Methodist or UCC church is visually obvious, when compared to the more "symbolically oriented" churches, the Orthodox, Catholic, and (to some extent) Lutheran churches.

I've had debates with people who say that all artistic representations, even the stained glass windows at Bethany, are inappropriate idolatry. Now, I won't dispute the fact that some of the churches I have mentioned do venerate relics and idols to a questionable degree, but I'd like to offer a different point of view. The great cathedrals of Europe were built at a time when the masses were illiterate, and the art and architecture of a church were meant to help explain the Biblical stories symbolically. The scenes depicted in our windows are similarly there as reminders to guide our prayer. We may not notice them every week. We may not ever examine them closely, but if at any time you choose to take a closer look, you will find that they point you toward the Bible.

Similarly, the great classical music (and in particular much of the music of Bach) is another way to point toward the stories, the text, the Bible. It's a very Lutheran concept to use music and the visual arts to point toward Scripture. We may not always hear every detail or "understand" every aspect of the music, but it is worthy music that holds up to scrutiny at many levels. It's pleasant to hear, and it enlightens and enlivens prayer and meditation.

Do you have a favorite example of music or art aiding your spiritual journey? For members of Bethany, when did you last notice the windows - any favorites? I hope this blog is helping people connect more directly with the music you hear each week so that you're always able to continue growing both musically and spiritually.

1 comment:

  1. Musicians and visual artists, by their nature, are always providing their personal perspectives on the topic they choose to address. I think we all gain when we can consider another person's perspective on something, whether that happens through music, picture, dialogue, or in written form. Each of us has favorite ways to engage in the process of getting another person's perspective. The hard part is deciding which perspectives are truly accurate.