In the Office: Music Alone Shall Live

I attended a concert last night that featured the choirs and concert band of my city’s middle and high schools. The event was part of a month-long emphasis on the importance of music education; and I, for one, can testify to music’s power to sharpen the mind, inspire the spirit, and create community. All of the pieces performed by the ensembles were well done. But the one that touched me the most was the final song of the evening: a simple round that was sung by all the musicians — both vocal and instrumental — whose words went like this:

All things shall perish from under the sky
Music alone shall live
Music alone shall live
Music alone shall live
Never to die

To be honest, I was almost a little choked-up by the time the song was completed — largely because I wonder at times if we as a society have “lost” our music. We seem to be so incapable of “getting on the same page” and “finding the harmony” that allows us to express our hopes and fears in a way that makes us an “ensemble” rather than a random assortment of self-seeking soloists.

As the song was being sung, I was reminded of the opening paragraphs of The Silmarillion, the “prequel” to J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. For in those paragraphs, Tolkien reimagines the Bible’s account of Creation, making “music” rather than “matter” the expression of God’s loving and creative impulse:

There was Elohim, The One, who in our tongue is called God. And he made first the angels, the Holy Ones, who were the offspring of his thought. And they were with him before aught else was made. And he spoke to them, propounding to them themes of music; and they sang before Him, and he was glad. But for a long while, they sang only each alone, or but few together, while the rest listened; for each comprehended only that part of the mind of God from which he came, and in the understanding of their brethren they grew but slowly. Yet ever as they listened they came to deeper understanding, and increased in unison and harmony.

And it came to pass that God called together all the angels and declared to them a mighty theme, unfolding to them things greater and more wonderful than he had yet revealed; and the glory of its beginning and the splendor of its end amazed the angels, so that they bowed before God and were silent.

Then God said to them, “Of the theme that I have declared to you, I will now that ye make in harmony together a Great Music. And since I have kindled you with the Flame Imperishable, ye shall show forth your powers in adorning this theme, each with his own thoughts and devices. And I will sit and listen, and be glad that through you great beauty has been awakened into song.

Then the voices of the angels, like unto harps and lutes, and pipes and trumpets, and strings and organs, and like unto countless choirs singing, began to fashion the theme of God into a great music. And a sound arose of endless interchanging melodies woven in harmony that passed beyond hearing and into the depths and into the heights…and the places of the dwelling of God were filled to over-flowing, and the music and the echo of the music went out into the void, and it was not void.

May we be faithful singers of The Song. And may The Music live, never to die.

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