It is a moment to be committed to memory—a moment filled with sight and sound—a moment to be returned to again and again.
The sound part of the memory, I can explain well enough. I am a musician and understand melody and harmony, attacks and cutoffs, crescendos and decrescendos.
I know how the members of musical groups interact with each other, listening—adjusting—blending. It takes all the skill of most seasoned musicians to simply begin and end a piece at the same time, with reasonable rhythmic similarity in between.
But, the tears coursing down my cheeks are not to be explained so cavalierly. The quietness that has fallen over the audience has nothing to do with the knowledge of tone and timbre, or with intonation.
But, I haven’t given much to go by, have I? Possibly a paragraph or two of explanation will help.
For the last thirty-five years, give or take a year or two, I have sat at Christmastime in the beautiful old cathedral, with its oak panels and stained glass. It has changed a lot in the last thirty-five years.
So have I.
Candlelight Service. It’s what they call it. A plain brown wrapper that hides a treasure waiting to be uncovered, nearly every time. I’ve been privileged to have a small part in the service for most of the years I’ve been there.
Tonight, after my small part was complete, I sat in the creaky old pew and waited for the whole thing to be over.
It’s been a rough year. I’m having a hard time accepting changes I didn’t ask for. I had a plan, yet things aren’t working out quite as I had envisioned. Well, now that I think of it, not at all as I had envisioned.
I’m not much in the mood to get in the Christmas spirit. So, I’m waiting for it all to be over instead. I know I’ll get my wish. Another few weeks and I’ll be home free. Right?
The choir, led by a man I love and respect, a man who after thirty years is leading for his last time this Christmas, has just finished a very nice rendition of What Wondrous Love. It was very nice.
Something is happening, though. The man leaves his podium to stand near the piano and a young fellow is assisting a feeble-looking woman up the steps to the stage. This is different.
As the octogenarian lady alights the podium, it is easy to see that she is anything but feeble. Her stance behind the music stand makes it clear that she is in her element; the attention of the young folks in the risers is riveted on her face and hands.
She holds no baton. She needs none. From the first quiet notes of the piano, that much is evident.
The First Noel.
Most in the audience have heard the carol a thousand times. Maybe more. I will admit, this arrangement is beautiful.
Most of the time, when I listen to this choir, I watch the musicians as they sing. Forty or fifty college students—some of them music majors, others following various fields of study—have worked hard to prepare for this event. They deserve the attention.
And yet, all I can see now is the lady on the podium. As it turns out, it is all the young people in the risers see, too. They will not take their eyes off of her for the next four minutes.
For my part, from the first notes the tears flood, literally flood, my eyes. Still, the lady fills my sight. Her hands, gnarled and aged, are beautiful in their communication of her wishes. A tiny wave this way and the sopranos are singing the melody. A little wiggle of her fingers and the volume drops as if someone has turned a knob on a stereo. Then she motions to the whole group and the beautiful sound fills the great cathedral.
Suddenly, in an insight that does nothing to help my tears abate, I understand. Taking nothing away from the abilities of the young singers, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the musician here is the ancient conductor standing in front of them. They are simply the instruments upon which she plays.
The result is nothing short of breath-taking. Literally. Breath-taking.
As the last notes die down in the cathedral, it seems to me that even the candles burning in the aisles momentarily flicker as the bated breath of nearly a thousand listeners is exhaled in the same instant.
What a sacred moment.
I’m not just talking about the music. That was indeed, nothing short of astonishing.
But, God speaks through His handiwork and His servants. If our eyes are open and our ears prepared to hear, He speaks. To us, He speaks.
I want to say more.
I don’t think I need to tonight.
It’s time for us to follow the Conductor.
What astonishing music He wants to make.
And do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.
(Romans 6:13 ~ NASB)
A great work of art is made out of a combination of obedience and liberty.
(Nadia Boulanger ~ French conductor ~ 1887-1979)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.