Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Beautiful things

I went with some friends to hear Handel's Messiah last night. Here at home the family has been listening to the music for a couple of days, but it's not the same. Acoustics aside, when you're sitting down with nothing to do but absorb music, you hear it differently.

When I was young I thought it was weird that in Messiah people sing the same words repeatedly. Last night I was thinking that everything that's true and beautiful in life needs repeating many times. It takes a lot of comfort ye's or Who is this king of glory's before the heart starts absorbing what's being said. We are people of story, and the stories that proclaim (or echo) truth are stories that we by nature tell and retell.

I was also thinking how truth and beauty weave in and out of life, passing from one voice to another and  back again, changed just enough to be new but still a variation on a theme. 

I once heard a lecture about studies that show the effect different kinds of music have on the brain. Someone ran rats through a maze, to see how they performed after being forced to listen to different kinds of music for a couple of days. Those who listened to classical music completed the maze faster; those who listened to rock ran slower than they had originally, and those who listened to country music were the slowest of all. The theory was that the more complex the music, the more synapses have to fire, and hence the smarter you become. (This may be what prompted the Baby Einstein folks to claim that watching their videos would raise your child's IQ, but there were a few major gaps in their logic.)

I'm not sure of the validity of those studies, but it certainly takes more thought to listen to something like Messiah than to listen to the Beatles. During a break in the performance, someone wondered aloud if people had any idea, back when Messiah was first performed, that the piece would last hundreds of years. That prompted a discussion of what, if anything, is being built or created today that will last as long. We're certainly good at coming up with things that are catchy or that dazzle. There isn't much that glows in the heart, though. Which makes it all the more important to pay attention to things of lasting beauty.

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