Wikio - Top Blogs - Religion and belief

Sunday, 2 July 2017

The Secret Chord Evening Service

Café Musica and I led an Evening Service tonight at St Peter's Chapel, Bradwell-on-Sea, that reflected on 'The Secret Chord', the book on faith and music that Peter Banks and I co-authored. The service was a celebration of faith and music which included: 'Here is love', 'One of us', 'The Lord's my shepherd', 'Fix you', 'Hallelujah', 'I will sing the wondrous story', and 'I'll fly away'.

In my reflection I said the following:

“Hallelujah” is one of the most-performed rock songs in history. It has become a staple of movies and television shows as diverse as Shrek and The West Wing, of tribute videos and telethons. It has been covered by hundreds of artists, including Bob Dylan, U2, Justin Timberlake, and k.d. lang, and it is played every year at countless events—both sacred and secular—around the world. Yet when music legend Leonard Cohen first wrote and recorded “Hallelujah,” it was for an album rejected by his longtime record label.

Harmonies, and the place of chords as a basis of harmony, give us a significant clue to understanding the power of music. Leonard Cohen's song ‘Hallelujah’ makes the claim that the Biblical King David had found a secret chord which, when played, pleased even God himself. The opening words to Cohen's song are extrapolated from the account in 1 Samuel 16: 14-23 of how King Saul asked for a skilful musician to be found so that person, who turned out to be David, could come and play to soothe Saul's troubled soul. It is clear that David was both a competent musician and also a prolific composer. According to the Scriptures, he would go on to curate and compose many of the 150 Psalms found in the Bible which survive in multiple translations as part of religious worship today. We heard Psalm 150 earlier in a version by the Cuban poet-priest, Ernesto Cardenal. What Cohen surmises is that whatever David played, or, most likely, improvised, would have also pleased the Lord, the children of Israel's God, as well as calming down King Saul.

Cohen's romantic hypothesis is that David had actually stumbled across and therefore deliberately employed a particular chord that has this mysterious power. A chord is a group of (typically three or more) notes sounded together, as a basis of harmony. Arthur Sullivan in a song called ‘The Lost Chord’ wrote about the effect that chordal harmony can have: ‘It seemed the harmonious echo / From our discordant life. / It linked all perplexèd meanings / Into one perfect peace.’

When Peter Banks and I wrote our book ‘The Secret Chord’ we used the image of discordance to explore a number of the dilemmas which musicians and other artists face and harmony to propose a way of understanding the image of the Secret Chord. The dilemmas that we explored were Sacred v Secular, Muse v Market, Play v Plan, Medium v Message, Chaos v Connection, Heart v Head and Search v Stasis> We explored these not so much in order to map out one route through or around these dilemmas but in an attempt to get the creative juices flowing. Our experience of creativity is of disparate and often contradictory ideas being crushed, swirled, fermented, shaken AND stirred in our minds in order that the fine wine of creativity results. Those disparate and often contradictory ideas are a little like the grit in the oyster which eventually produces the pearl or possibly, in this instance, the Secret Chord. Our hope was that the book, by exploring artistic dilemmas from a range of different perspectives, would mature in people’s minds exactly like some fine wine or that pearl.

In the book we argue that the Secret Chord posited by Leonard Cohen is actually a recognition of coinherence (the coming together of things) and coincidence (the unexpected coming together of things in a providential way). Recognising and welcoming these coincidences is a means of keeping 'in step with the Holy Spirit.' Scott Peck calls this the 'principle of synchronicity' and views it as an expression of God’s grace. In their song entitled ‘Synchronicity’, the rock band, The Police, describe this phenomenon as a connecting principle which is linked to the invisible. If we share this sense of synchronicity then we are able to dream Spiritus mundi (Spirit of the world – a sense of the interconnection of all things).

Peter remembers this occurring for him on 15th September 2001 when American conductor Leonard Slatkin led the BBC Orchestra in a dramatic rendition of Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings at the BBC Proms. This was a change added to the usual program of jingoistic ditties that is regularly played at the Last Night of The Proms. Proximity to the tragedy of 9/11 helped to make it spine tingling for those present in the Royal Albert Hall at the time, as well as those viewing on TV. This was not an aggressive response to 9/11, but a truly spiritual one, with everyone experiencing something of God through the pain and suffering. There was a coming together of music and context which created a performance that took on greater significance after the actual event as time passed and as its cache built through word of mouth.

Music is a performance in which harmonies echoing from our discordant lives link all perplexèd meanings into one perfect peace. Music, in performance, is an unrepeatable moment in which all things come together enabling us to feel God's pleasure. Cohen once said, 'This world is full of conflicts and full of things that cannot be reconciled, but there are moments when we can transcend the dualistic system and reconcile and embrace the whole mess, and that's what I mean by "Hallelujah".'

So, the Secret Chord is always a performance, an unrepeatable event in history, with a date and a time, in which harmonies echoing from our discordant lives link all perplexèd meanings into one perfect peace. It is in those unrepeatable moments in history in which it all comes together that we feel God's pleasure. The Secret Chord, as Leonard Cohen stated, is indeed pleasing to the LORD.

Arthur Sullivan wrote:

‘I struck one chord of music,
Like the sound of a great Amen.

It flooded the crimson twilight,
Like the close of an angel's psalm,
And it lay on my fevered spirit
With a touch of infinite calm.

It quieted pain and sorrow,
Like love overcoming strife;
It seemed the harmonious echo
From our discordant life.

It linked all perplexèd meanings
Into one perfect peace,
And trembled away into silence
As if it were loth to cease.’

Details of the remaining services in the Summer series at St Peter's Chapel are as follows:


Arthur Sullivan - The Lost Chord.

No comments: