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“Music is the shorthand of emotion.”

I spend a lot of my time listening to music. Last week my sister and I were comparing our iTunes collections – both are large and eclectic. But we listen to different types of music at different times and for different purposes. For working out, I have fast-paced pop in a playlist that keeps my energy up. My driving music is usually jazz or folks that I can sing a long with. My reading playlist is primarily classical. Depending on my mood, I’m listening to rock, Christian, alternative, motown, children’s, blues, country – you name it, there’s likely something in my collection.  And I do find that what I choose to listen to relates to my mood – whether it’s the music itself or the lyrics.  After all, as Leo Tolstoy wrote, “Music is the shorthand of emotion.”

This past weekend I had opportunity to spend a lot of time in my car. I had recently purchased a couple of new albums, so used my driving time to listen to them. As I was listening, I realised that I was subconsciously picking out messages of hope and light and life – Christian themes – in this ‘secular’ music. I realise that the lens through which I see the world is a Christian one, and that I aim to reflect theologically on all that is around me. I delight in the intersection of the sacred and the ordinary.  I’ll share two examples; one from St. Paul’s Cathedral in Regina, where on Sunday morning one of the hymns we sang (Let Streams of Living Justice) was to the tune ‘Thaxted;’ this is actually a portion of ‘Jupiter’ from Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” composition, which was not originally intended for the church.  Another example was driving home, I was thinking of some recent challenges in my life when I heard Mumford & Sons song “Hopeless Wanderer;” the lyrics that include “When your hope is on fire/ But you know your desire/ Don’t hold a glass over the flame/ Don’t let your heart grow cold/ I will call you by name/ I will share your road.” What a great reflection of God’s presence in my journey to love and serve.

So I thought today, as I sit here in the snowy prairies, I would invite us all to share some of the music that speaks to our souls.  Are there lyrics that shed some Gospel light into your life?  Is there a piece of music that spurs a memory of a Holy experience?

About Laura Marie Piotrowicz

I’m a high-energy priest, now serving in the Diocese of Niagara, catching glimpses of the kingdom in daily life. I consider church to be a verb, and I’m passionate about prayer, eco-theology, and social justice. I love travel, reading, canoeing, camping, gardening and cooking, playing with my dogs, and drinking good coffee.

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0 Responses to “Music is the shorthand of emotion.”

  1. Music is at the core of the Tanakh – I have been exploring the implications on my blog since August.  You can see an example here. The introduction is available via PDF in the October archive. It contains links to existing online performances.

  2. Amazing Grace does it for me everytime, regardless of whether it’s done by a “secular” artist or in a religious setting.  I  have read a fair bit about the author of the hymn, John Newton, and knowing about his life in some details adds a lot more to the meaning of it for me.

  3. Matthew Griffin

    A current favourite song is from a perennial favourite musician of mine, Josh Ritter. THe song is called “Lark” (you can hear it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FNmqpjkeM_0 ) and it’s the chorus that gets me, every time: “I am assured, yes / I am assured yes / I am assured that peace will come to me / A peace that can, yes / surpass the speed, yes / Of my understanding and my need”

  4. John, thanks for sharing. Ani DiFranco does a version of Amazing Grace that I find terribly moving.

    Matthew, thanks for your contribution, and the link! I will investigate more of Ritter 🙂

    As I was trying to catch up on laundry and paperwork this afternoon, Camille Saint-Saëns came on to my playlist – which is what was playing when I spent a morning in Chartres Cathedral last summer. A joy to mentally be back to such a sacred space!

  5. Sharon Harding

    A few years back I went through a very difficult time in my life and stumbled on the song “Carry On” by Ben’s Brother (it’s on YouTube). It was like a conversation… I could hear God singing the first verse and refrain and I sang the other verses. It was a wonderful affirmation of God’s presence in my life.

  6. Kyle Norman

    Thanks for the Post LauraMarie

    I love music and have often included song quotations in sermons.  Probably not a shocker, but I tend to focus a bit more on the popular stuff of the moment, and the spiritual messages that we find therein.  Interestingly enough, the most moving examples for me have always been the ones that are not set on adoration but on divine discontent.  (Speaking of which, Divine Discontent by SixPence None the Richer is awesome!). 

    Anyway, I find that a lot of popular songs have spiriutal themes and implications – but not all of them are ‘God loves us’, ‘God is awesome.’  For example, i have often quoted Green Day’s ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’ where Billy Joe sings “My shadow’s the only one that walks beside me; My shallow heart’s the only thing that’s beating; Sometimes I wish someone up there will find me; ’til then I walk alone”  It’s a horrifically lonely song which (I think) gives voice to what a lot of people spiritually feel today.   Linkin Park is another band that I find speaks a lot about an inner struggle of Desiring God amidst the feelings of being abandoned by Him.  I find that music is a great forum to explore these emotions as well.

  7. Thanks Sharon and Kyle.

    It strikes me as this conversation continues that the emotion we express through the music around us (whatever the source) is meant to be a conversation – with the world and with God. I too have found music to be a great connection between my spiritual self and my earthly self.  That being said, I’m going to suggest that in this day and age we tend to use music as a psalm – a prayer of the reality of life that we can express alone or with others. The themes of spirital connection are always there, we just have to be open to seeing (or hearing) them…

  8. The music of Johnny Cash was instrumental (ha!) to my conversion to Christianity.

    However, I’d make a distinction between music and lyrics. You can’t quote music without actually singing it, surely?

  9. Yeah, reading the thread more carefully I see that we’re not in fact talking about music at all: we’re focusing on the words. 🙂

    For what it’s worth, I tend to listen to the actual music a lot more than to the lyrics, which take a considerably longer time to percolate through for me. And I’ve discovered that melodies are all well and good, but the true divine in music, for me, is found in chords. Many different tones sounding concurrently and expressing motion. It’s like an aural representation of what a congregation should be, to my mind.

  10. Hi Vincent, and thanks for your input. While a few of us have gone the route of discussing lyrics, music is so much more than that – and thanks for bringing that up!  Calvin argued that music inspired more of an emotional response than words. I too sometimes dive into instrumental music when I don’t want to get bogged down with other peoples’ words; whenever I’m in a time of deep discernment I avoid lyrical music altogether.

    And may I say how much I enjoy your description of the ‘aural representation’ – fantastic!

  11. I’m a Dancer.i have danced in the back of several churches in Vancouver area,United, Anglican who like it & Baptist & Mennonite who not always like it. be dance in pubs as well andfestivals. My body is my instrument. I express the words through my dance,especially if have a lot of imagery.ie On Eagles wings,I fly like an Eagle.i often listen to rock & roll & blues at pub.Oh Happy Day I find uplifting & enjoy dancing to. Many songs I find spiritual dimension.the music moves me to dance with my body,mind, & spirit.also social aspect.sometimes I’m all alone dancing yet develop relationship with musicians at local jams.often dance as a couple,so moving with each other.or. As a wholegroup,a communitycommunal dance.sometimes at a festival may be 1000s dancing together to music!i have danced through all kinds oan emotions from anger to sadness to happiness to joy.i attend All saints ,Burnaby B.C. In the past I danced & copedwhen I worked with the ministry of child & family services,best & worst.i often danced at jazz Vespers at st. Andrews Wesley downtown & Christ Church Catherdral downtown. I loved when they played ‘shine Jesus Shine’ during thisperiod.lotsoff images to dance to. I have danced at a friends funeral at All Saints. As in Ecclesiastics ‘ a time to mourn,a time to dance!i don’t get to church now much because I work in a group home,off at 700 am.peoplein pub part of my community.i normally don’t drink alcohol there.just need first beat of music. People enjoy watching me express music through my dance.