The Language of Music

Feb 11 2018


Jazz Worship


If you are a musician, you will already know part of what I am going to talk about this morning. For the rest of you, this is a brief explanation of how music is put together. When you look at a piece of music, you usually see five horizontal parallel lines on top and five horizontal parallel lines on the bottom. Those lines are called a staff. On the upper staff is a curlicue thing that looks like a funny S – that’s a treble clef sign. On the bottom is a thing that looks like a comma with a colon after it - that’s the bass clef sign.  The vertical lines separating what are called measures are bar lines. In many pieces of music you will see a time signature like a four over a four or a three over a four. The top number tells us how many beats there are in a measure and the bottom number tells us what kind of note gets the beat. So three over four would be three beats to a measure with the quarter note getting the beat. All of that is the technical language of music.

But the language of music that speaks to many of us is entirely different. Music is a universal language that speaks to the moods and emotions of the listener and the performers. Whether it’s an instrumental or a vocal, one instrument or many, for most of us, music carries us to another place and sometimes, another time.

Ecclesiastes tells us about the ranges of emotions and circumstances in time that we may encounter. Born, die, plant, sow, kill, heal, break down, build up, weep, laugh, mourn, dance, seek, lose, love, hate, war, peace as an example. Every time that we hear a piece of music we’ve heard before, it takes us back to a special time and place – laughter, tears, love, hate. Even if we hear a piece of music with words in a strange language, we somehow connect our emotions with the tone and tune of the song. It’s not unusual to hear – that sounds like a sad song, or a love song. And when we hear what it means, we are usually right. So music can take us back to a place and time and we remember.

Some songs tell stories, and while we may not know all the particulars of a story, we can relate to the emotions of the singer. Country Western music uses stories quite a bit. Adele writes her songs about personal experiences she has had.

What the writer is telling us in Ecclesiastes is that we will experience all sorts of emotions throughout our lives. Some of those will be happy, heart-filled moments – embrace, love heal, laugh. Others will be sad and heart-wrenching – death, loss, or war. In the case of Peter in our Gospel lesson, it’s an avowal of loyalty that is later broken. Like Peter, sometimes we say things in the intensity of the moment and later find out that like Peter, fear takes hold of us and calls us in a different direction. Or, when we stop to think about it, we realize that we spoke too soon.

There are two lessons for us to take from these Scriptures. One, no matter what we do, God does not leave. God will always be there for us, prodding us on – sometimes through the words of a song. God will always be there, no matter the situations in which we find ourselves. Like a loving parent, God is present and ready to help us through all of the circumstances of our lives.

Second, we write the music of our lives. We make choices. Those choices always have consequences. Some are good consequences; some teach us the hardest lessons we will learn. But we make the choices that write the music of our lives 

Some of us might look at our lives like a sad song. Some of us are introspective and thinkers. Some of us have a great sense of humor that helps us through most of the challenges we encounter. For some it’s a polka and for others it’s a waltz. But the songs and symphonies of our lives are written each time we make a choice. And throughout those choices, God is there.

Each of us sings a special song. Each of us writes our own symphonies. And each of us is a loved child of God who is called to make the best choices we can. May God grant us wisdom, courage and love as we write the symphonies of our lives. Amen.