Music has charms to sooth a savage beast…
The words, written in verse centuries ago, are quoted frequently, even today. I don’t disagree.
In the last two days, I have reveled in the harmonious, percussive notes of a skillfully played hammered dulcimer, listened in awe to the sweet, mellow tones of my favorite trumpet player, and wiped away tears at the conclusion of an amazing vocal duet from an opera (you read that right, an opera). In between those numbers, I’ve played and sung a bit myself, as well as heard several other artists who are skillfully adept at their craft.
This savage beast’s heart was soothed. For awhile. But, for some reason, I hear something else in my head tonight.
Well, it’s been a busy week in Lake Wobegon.
I can even hear the quiet, smooth tonality of Garrison Keillor’s baritone voice as I write this, although I’m not quite sure why those words come to mind. Maybe because I’ve been way too busy for the last few weeks.
Going a little further, perhaps it’s even because I’ve been a little down in the mouth recently. You know—the worries of life are starting to pile up here and there, the things that I usually can control have gotten away from me a bit.
Instead of a perpetual grin, the corners of the mouth are turned down somewhat, and it’s harder than usual to work up to a smile. Thus, the descriptive phrase down in the mouth seems to cover my attitude most appropriately.
Every time I hear Mr. Keillor utter the opening sentence to the story-telling session on his radio program, I am struck once more by the name of his fictitious town. He avers that the name comes from an old Native American word meaning the place where we waited all day in the rain for you. It is not exactly the correct origin for the word woebegone, but it comes awfully close.
The idea of waiting in the rain for someone who never arrives just about describes the depth of the feeling of being woebegone, a word that really comes from the Middle English meaning beset by woe. Either way, an apt description for someone who is down in the mouth.
As I sat and listened this afternoon to the jaw-droppingly beautiful tones that emanated from the young lady’s trumpet, my inner being was touched. And then, as mother and daughter sang their operatic duet in a language I will never understand, I ached for more.
But more of what?
I know by experience that I soon tire of the same music, played or sung again and again. A recording would not suffice, nor would simply attending a recital day after day to hear the artists ply their craft. I am convinced beauty on earth is given to remind us that there is more. Something more satisfying is to come.
What we have here, beautiful as it may be, is only a shadow of what is to be ours one day.
Many centuries ago, the writer of psalms understood that, even as he struggled with his own inner sadness. He was woebegone, down in the mouth, but still he wrote, “Deep calls unto deep” and told of his Creator’s unspeakable love and glory, evidenced by the world around him. Like Job, the afflicted one, he outlined his troubles and then reiterated, “…for I will yet praise Him.”
Some of us drown our sorrows with alcohol, some with work, some with denial. I listen for hours to music, reveling in the intrinsic beauty of the chords, and the harmonies, and the melodies.
For all, it is the same. The time comes when reality must be faced.
The music ends, the fat lady sings, if you will.
We who believe have a promise that will still keep us on the path. The knowledge, the certainty, that there is more, is enough to give us strength and perseverance to go on through what lies ahead.
Not around and not under. Through.
I don’t know about you, but I’m going on. The oases along the way—the music, the fellowship, the joy—those only lend credence to the promise that we’re just nomads, travelers in this world, on our way to a better place.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m enjoying the soundtrack while I’m here.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?
(Psalm 42:1,2 ~ NIV)
Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.
(The Mourning Bride by William Congreve ~ English playwright and poet ~ 1670-1729)