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The Music in My Head

Since a child, I always had a strong connection between music and the things that I do. I have vivid memories of walking the tundra of Baffin Island with my dog, and making up songs and melodies relating to such things as the day’s reflection, the beauty of creation, and the challenges of growing up with elder sisters.

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As I continued to grow and develop, my musical tastes and abilities changed. Life in my world was interspersed with trombone practice, vocal and piano lessons, and a medley of  rehearsals with choirs and bands. I grew to love Palestrina, Handel, Gillespie, Fitzgerald, and countless more, while also exploring U2, the Police, the Indigo Girls, and others.

These days I find myself struggling to keep up with the plethora of musicians, styles, and approaches. I upload all my daughters’ music so that I can attempt to engage in conversation, at least at some level, with their interests and passions. I listen passively, somewhat, to music, while moving from one place to another. Music is part of my daily life and practice; writing and praying, singing, reflecting, relaxing, and being.

Music informs my beliefs, helps to shape my daily actions, my reflections upon the state of the community of faith and of the wider community wherein God dwells. Music helps to bring me persistence and perseverance, comfort and balm. Music goads me into action from a passive observance of events, to active learning, direct intervention at times, and most definitely to increased advocacy and justice bringing.

Stations of the Cross

My daily reflections concerning music remind me that as we look back in history, we have anemic accounts of the life and witness of humanity. We have texts, art pieces, architecture, remains, yes. In all of this, however, we do not have the sounds of life in community and in history (nor do we have smells or tastes, incidentally). The record that we have of the past, is less than our remembrance of it. Take Wednesdays in Lent at the Ascension, for example. Since 2008, we have been praying the stations of the cross using a liturgy from the Iona Community, images copied from the College of the Resurrection, Mirfield, and music from Ennio Morricone’s The Mission. Each time we gather, I put The Mission on shuffle. Each week the stations are transformed because the music and the experience differs. The community changes week to week and year to year, the order of the music is never the same, and the readers of the Scriptures vary week to week. In years to come, someone will find the order of worship, the stark words on a page. No one will be able to recreate the community nor the numinous in the sound of music and voice.

I have no doubt that I understand little the intricacies of the relationship between sounds and human experience. Yet, my life is surrounded by sound and song, prayer and action. I face the challenges of the day in this life, with music in my head, that has the opportunity to become a part of the music of my heart and soul. Not all of the soundtracks I hear will impress themselves upon my soul. I am sure that the music that resonates with God’s presence and realm will forever be a part of my journey.

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David Burrows

About David Burrows

David Burrows is a priest of the church, currently serving in parish ministry within the Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, a place he has called home for the past fifteen years. He consistently engages dialogue and action with the wider community through creative outreach projects. Cycling, kayaking, writing, and driving fast cars are distractions in his life.
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11 Responses to The Music in My Head

  1. I listen to a very diverse range of music but the stuff that never fails to make my heart stop is the traditional Anglican stuff with choirs and organs. I love lots of other genres and get something out of them all, but I find myself closest to God when listening to (or singing) the ‘classics’. I suppose this is because I’ve been involved in Anglican worship since I was an infant–it’s in my blood. I used to sing hymns as loudly as I could from a pew copy of the old blue hymn book illuminated by a flashlight every weekday morning as I walked out a long farm lane to wait for the school bus in the dark. 🙂

  2. most young people I know have 1000s of songs on their mp3. most is specifically not related to faith. i must confess that most of mine is escapist just like their’s. the search for “the perfect playlist” is a common young person’s project. is there a perfect Anglican playlist? hmmm. . .

  3. Andrew Fletcher once said “Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws.” The songs we sing have more influence on a nations mores then we care to realize .We just have to listen to some of the lyrics of the songs that people are listening to see the prevailing attitudes in the country.

  4. David Burrows

    Brad, Jim, and Tony; Great comments! I am reminded of a story that a friend of mine shared concerning our mutual friend (now deceased) who was a Moravian minister. She was disappointed in the choice of the hymn “Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion city of our God” at an ecumenical worship service. For her, the tune was always associated with “Das Lied der Deutschen” and her family’s escape from Nazi occupied Europe. No matter what the words of the hymn, the music of Haydn was a painful reminder of the church and the nation neglecting Christ. In short, there may be a ‘perfect playlist,’ there may be ‘classics;’ however, music has a history. What beats in the soul of one as their heart music, may pierce the heart of another. Music can be effective tools for such things as evangelism, hope, unity, advocacy. Music can also be a tool for hatred, oppression, and violence.

  5. I grew up with a diversity of music and no matter what the genre, it elevates my view of certain things in life .

  6. David: just this past weekend, I was considering the (possible) divide between

    I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
    Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;

    and

    Let streams of living justice flow down upon the earth;
    Give freedom’s light to captives, let all the poor have worth.

    Same tune, and two different messages, neither of which was intended by Holst. The combination between the power of music and the power of poem is… well, powerful. And I think it raises further questions: might hymn texts set to some melodies disrespect the music’s intended purpose? Can a melody be “reclaimed” by a marginalized community that alters the words?

    • David Burrows

      Jesse, the best community to address these questions, I believe, is the Iona Community. The Wild Goose Resource Group has been exploring this practice for a number of years. The Summons, which uses the tune Kelvingrove, is a rewording of a Scots drinking song. My dear friend Ian Dingwall (now deceased) always chuckled at the tune. In short – Yes, we adjust melodies, and sometimes this does alter the music’s original purpose.

      • Matthew Griffin

        Striking, too, in “Let streams of living justice” is the verse of William Whitla’s poem that was left out in the hymn version of his words which we find in Common Praise. I wonder how many who sing it know it was inspired in part by the los Desparecidos in Argentina?

        The dreaded disappearance of family and friend;
        The torture and the silence: the fear that knows no end;
        The mother with her candle; the child who holds a gun,
        The old one nursing hatred; all seek release to come.
        Each candle burns for freedom; each lights a tyrant’s fall;
        Each flower placed for martyrs gives tongue to silenced call.

        • I, for one, did not. Wow.

          • David Burrows

            This is such an endorsement for collaboration, for listening effectively within church and society, and being open to new translations, new hymnody partnered with older tunes. For me, we must continually break open our experience of God, so that our hearts can be transformed to respond in Godly ways. Thank you Jesse and Matthew – within the community of Christ, we can learn, grow and present the challenge of the Gospel with new words, new music, within each generation.

    • As for words being changed to songs that change the meaning. I have a problem with those who put together Common Praise with their flagrant editing of a lot of well known hymns to meet their own theology and political correctness, not taking into account the meaning the author originally intended. If they want to have a hymn to reflect their own biases, write one on their own but don’t high jack another man’s work . All those hymns that have been ravaged this way should be trashed and the originals brought back.

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