Ask Magpie: Musical Influences

(The singing on this fast and dirty podcast is much louder than the speaking. Be prepared to turn down the volume! Consider your self warned.)

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I am young. Young enough to hold my father’s hand. The church is a little dim, the wood of the pews being so dark, the carpet such a deep red. Our pastor—part-grandfather, part-judge— is on the dais, his robes resplendently white, the gold of his stole glinting. He moves like an alchemist at the altar using, words, and rites, and gestures to turn ordinary things into talismans.

There is an electric organ, badly played, and an upright piano. We sing choruses before the liturgy, simple songs newly written by hippies with guitars picks. My father loves these simple songs, just a few phrase on repeat until they sink into your soul. He raises his hands to the sky, a stand out amongst the stiffness.

“Jesus, I just want to Thank You.
Jesus, I just want to Thay-ank You.
Jesus, I just want to Thank You.
Thank you for being so good.”

We unhinge our jaws. We loose our tongues. We the ordinary people of the everyday – we take on the task of angels. We sing. 

Now comes the hymns, both awkward and resplendent with age. An elderly woman with a thin, high voice warbles enthusiastically behind me. We are staid people, we Lutherans, and no inclined to showmanship. But some hymns are robust: 

“Holy, holy, holy!  All the saints adore thee,
casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,
which wert, and art, and evermore shalt be
.”

My mother’s hands rest on the hymnal.  Her lacquered nails are bright against the brown nougahyde cover. They are long and cool and smooth. I love to stroke them when there is no singing and the service lingers on. I do not care for the spoken words: long scripture passage read aloud, the drone of the sermon. But the songs, the psalms, the hymnody-these charm me. I am utterly in their thrall. Spellbound. The Latin is like an incantation. We make our confession in a magic tongue:

 “Kyrie, Kyrie Eleison, Eleison…”

Finally, it is time to chant my favorite part of the liturgy, and we turn to the Nunc Dimittis, Simeon’s Song.

“Lord lettest now Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word.
For mine eyes have seen Thy Salvation, which Thou hast prepared before
the face of all people.
A Light to lighten the gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.
We praise Thee. We bless Thee. We worship Thee.
We glorify Thee. We give thanks to Thee for Thy great glory.
Amen.”

Years later, when decades of rock and roll have filled my ears and the chants of my childhood have long been set aside, a tragedy comes to our door. Our first child is still born, a little boy a not much longer than my husband’s hand, which holds him on my chest. The diagnosis came before the birth. No abdominal wall. No chest wall. A spine bent and misshapen. We have had time to prepare, and my heart rushes back to those long Sundays in the dim red womb of the chapel. My tongue finds the old songs. We baptize our son in the way of my childhood, the long-established liturgy our guide in this unknown and frightening terrain. Simeon, we name him. Once more we sing the song… 

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My thanks to Jamie Ridler of Starshyne Productions for submitting “How has music influenced you?” as an Ask Magpie question.

Now it’s your turn! How has music influenced you over your lifetime? Tell us in the comments, or add the link to your post.

Ask Magpie is featured (some) Wednesdays and depends on your inquiring mind. “Ask me a question, I’ll tell you no lies!” Thanks for being here.


Jamie June 3, 2009 at 1:38 pm

What a song you sing in this post, Rachelle – beautiful tones, delicate moods, words that wrap around your heart. After I read them, I feel a hush and just sit with you in this quiet space. Namaste.

Monica June 3, 2009 at 3:14 pm

Beautiful. Jamie said it so well …

I have a blog post whirling around in my head re some music. I’ll let you know when/if I post it.

lala June 3, 2009 at 11:08 pm

This was lovely,

I have questions!!

How do you feel about the changes in job that your faith journey has caused? Do you ever think there will be work for alt ministers? Do you lose faith like me? That there will not be spaces for us in which we can earn and living and feed each other ever?

How do you and your husband balance your faith journeys and the different directions they take you in, especially over the long haul?

Rachelle June 4, 2009 at 6:42 am

Thanks for the great question LaLa. I will defintely write about that one in the next couple week. I may send you an email privately first. I find that’s a good technique…answer ?’s in email, and then make it more general and post it. Warmth to you! Hold on to hope!

Bethany June 4, 2009 at 3:06 pm

This is absolutely beautiful. I remember reading something about your son once, but I didn’t know the significance behind his name… and this was a perfect tribute.
It brings me to a question as well (once you answer lala’s, which I’m also very interested in!). Church music used to be a very important part of my relationship with God, and not just music we sang at church but worship CDs and music I would play on my instruments. However, I’ve been a little shocked to find over the past year that this music has lost all relevance for me. Only one or two of the songs in our church’s entire repertoire mean anything to me, and the rest are just a matter for endurance. My question: Is music still a part of your spirituality, and if so, how does it apply? Have you found a way to bring it with you into the uncharted regions of the map?

Rachelle June 4, 2009 at 5:56 pm

Bethany,

Ooo! Another good question. I may have to start doing Ask Magpie multiple times a week. (I’ve got a couple on deck already from ?’s that have come in email.) See…this is how we grow the Giant Pool of Wisdom. We ask, answer and wonder together.

I love how questions act as writing prompts, and I hope y’all will answer for each other as well, and leave your urls in the comments so we can all link love around.

I will write about this one, I’m sure. Maybe next week we could do “Song that Aren’t Churchy but Feed the Soul” for an *8Things!

kazari June 5, 2009 at 7:45 am

This is beautiful Rachelle. Isn’t it amazing how long forgotten comforts come back to us when we need them?

Sam June 8, 2009 at 12:13 am

Rachelle, this is beyond lovely. There is *hushness* to it, absolutely. And I would love to hear your answers to the questions here in the comments – even though I know I’m not as *alt* as many of you, I still love to read and hear about your journey.

I’ll have to send Bethany an email, but today I got the giggles in church, singing “Pass it On”. Oh, I never realized how terribly hokey that song can be!

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