One of the perks of moving to New Jersey was landing in a town with strong support for the arts. Every time I attend a middle or high school concert, I consider how the old image of painful evenings of parents patiently pretending to enjoy the music has ended. The kids in this town could be professionals. If I close my eyes, I forget they’re all under nineteen. Last night at a school concert one of the pieces was “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” Eric Idle’s chestnut from the Life of Brian (now featured, I hear tell, in Spamalot). I first saw the Life of Brian with some trepidation while in seminary—I had been sounded warned that it was a profane movie, making fun of Jesus. Considering that all the actual references to Jesus in the movie are quite positive, I eventually realized what all the fuss was about. The movie doesn’t make fun of Jesus, it does, however, show the laughable nature of those who follow a religion blindly. This, I gather, was the real root of the problem.
Next to this fun piece, the concert also included several pieces taken from originally sacred contexts such as Mozart’s Dies Irae and settings of Veni, Sancte Spiritus and Ave Maria. Spirituals, likewise, are a perennial favorite. Performed along next to these pieces of religious origin were also decidely secular pieces such as “Scarborough Fair” and the Beatles’ “Hello, Goodbye.” In concert the sacred and profane blend beautifully. Perhaps there is a paradigm hidden in plain sight here. Religions need not be defensive and unbelievers need not attack them. The world is surely big enough for differences of opinion.
Music has a power that sometimes frightens me. I don’t often address it in my blog because of how much it affects me. Theorists often note that music is part of nearly every religion ever invented—we know that something special is going on when we hear it. And music has the ability to move large groups of people simultaneously. I’ve not attended many professional concerts (the last one was Alice Cooper in Atlantic City back in 2008), but no matter how secular the artist the experience is profoundly spiritual. I’m not sure I can adequately define what that means, but when it is felt there is no mistaking it. So maybe that’s why school concerts have such power. It seems that schools that support the arts also tend to have excellent academic records as well. The truth is hidden in plain sight.