by Jennifer Wickham
I have been surrounded by music my entire life. The soundtrack of my childhood included opera, jazz, classical, folk, bluegrass, and rock & roll. I have endured endless piano lessons, voice lessons, clarinet lessons, guitar lessons, choir practices, bluegrass festivals, musicals, and opera company performances. As a young person, I was certain that my parents demanded this musical boot camp so I’d become civilized and cultured.
I wasn’t an easy music student. In typical child and teenage fashion, I used to complain that playing (or singing) music written by long-dead composers couldn’t possibly be of any benefit to me. Practicing scales on the keyboard bored me. Ear-training sessions and theory exercises seemed pointless.
My attitude changed once I started making my own personal connections to the music around me. It started slowly: a beautiful lyric described a thought I couldn’t articulate; a harmony expressed a feeling I didn’t even know I had. As I started building my own life’s collection of joys, sadnesses, hopes, failures, loves and losses, music became a familiar friend. It comforted me. It inspired. It grieved alongside. It instructed. Above all else, music elevated me out of myself and reminded me that there were — of course! — things greater than ME. (Several years ago I actually wrote my two childhood piano teachers thank-you notes for helping me become a person who appreciates music both technically and aesthetically. My parents found that very amusing, and sweet.)
The musical soundtrack of my life has continued to expand. This spring, I am singing alongside my 19-year-old son, Ian, as a member of the Corpus Christi Chorale. I have also sung alongside peasants in Honduras and not understood a single word. I have listened to horribly bawdy, hilariously funny, poetically touching, beautifully tragic and wonderful music at Broadway shows. I have sung with children and learned — for the millionth time — that yes, Jesus loves me. I have written my own music and tried to find just the right marriage of sound and text. A very powerful moment came when I heard the chamber orchestra of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Port-au-Prince play Ayiti, Leve Kanpe (“Haiti, Get Back Up”). At that moment, watching a woman weep while playing her cello, I learned about the love and heartbreak my Haitian brothers and sisters felt in the aftermath of the tragic earthquake of January 12, 2010. (This powerful piece is worth a Google search.)
Music has changed my life, and music has given countless others a way to express themselves in ways words alone never could.
More than anything, I have discovered a thousand ways for music to enhance my faith journey and show me the face of God. Traditional or contemporary, acoustic or electric, recorded or live, ancient or new, choral or instrumental — all of music’s richness parallels the richness of God. It can be sweeping and grand, but it can also be intimate and touching. I am blessed to worship in a parish that makes a strong commitment to the ministry of music, and I appreciate how the wide variety enriches my spiritual life. Regardless of the style, music has the power to elevate us and connect us to the OTHER, whether that be the community around us or the God who created us.
Take time to consider the role music plays in your life. Listen carefully to all the sounds around you as you worship. Let music touch you. Listen to the music of silence. Our ears are an avenue into our spirits, and perhaps there is something God wants to communicate that can reach you in no other way. Appreciate variety, and find ways to make your own music. God does not care about the quality of our talent — only that we make our own joyful noise to the glory of the One who created it. Remember that it was God’s very breath that started it all.
Jennifer Wickham is a member of All Saints Episcopal Church in Corpus Christi TX.