A Short Reflection on Chapter One of Book A Song to Sing, A Life to Live: Reflections on Music as Spiritual Practice by Don Salier and Emily Salier:
The chapter begins with making very strong assertion that throughout human history, people have been searching their individuality and destination in music and songs. Music came to exist a long time ago – even from the beginning of time; hence, it has a deep connection with our ancestors. The introductory part of the chapter says that Songliness connects one generation to another, and generations yet to come. And the authors claim that music has a power to restore us to life and it becomes a potential bridge between a man and one’s God (5).
Some of the statements made by the authors made me very uncomfortable, especially for a student like me pursuing a degree in Pre-Seminary. They were very bizarre and unorthodox. The reason behind some of these statements in such free-flowing piece of writing is understandable, as one of the authors, Emily, claims that she is a ‘religious mutt’. At one point, she claims that she is not a person of faith only because she found out that many people are hurt and inflicted upon, ostracized, sexually abused etc. by religion (4). However, she makes incoherent claims shortly after and says that she is a person of faith who has hard time to articulate it. Thus, no new information or lessons to learn from the account of this chapter, as statements are so vague and hard to understand, as if I were reading an excerpt from postmodern philosophy text book or modern art book.
For example, the authors say that failing to understand music and song making, one does not have the understanding of spirit and spirituality (2-3). I have no idea what the basis for this claim is. Some are spiritually very gifted and some are not. Some people are most likely prone to create music, write songs that pierce the bottom of the heart, but some are highly skilled to produce lively music. On this case, people like me who have no music background, no understanding of music, and not gifted to make a line of a song have no understanding of spirituality! If the same parameter or logic is applied, then only handful people who have skill or gift of understanding music and ability to make songs have the knowledge of spirit and spirituality. Nevertheless, the impact of music in one’s life and its power to heal the broken heart cannot be overlooked.
In Don’s account, he clearly discloses the legacy of music he inherited from his father and aunt in his childhood. Christian hymnal music has great influence upon him, as he describes he had privilege to learn piano, violin, clarinet in his early age. His spiritual life and his passion for music walked together in his life, for he honed his skills being in a high school choir, orchestra, band, chamber, groups, operettas, and trying his hands on jazz trio. One has to have passion to master in music. And Don clearly shows his fiery fire to learn jazz by reading it and also listening to it very passionately.
There is no doubt that music can touch the nerve of human conscience. Nonetheless, it is not clear what he meant when he says, music as ‘a primary soul practice’ (12). He is most likely saying that only music can awake and stir our subconscious soul than any other things of the world, since the nature of music is engaging. Another distinctive nature of music is to animate our somber life. For many conceives music as “the language of the soul made audible” (13). The univocal evidence of it can be any inspirational songs and hymns those were written and composed out of great distress, dismay, infliction etc.
Despite some disagreement with authors, some of the advice from Don should be taken very seriously in the wake of our spiritual low time. The practical wisdom should be heeded with care reflecting upon the songs and respect them from the very depth of our soul. Next, we should search and yearn for a community of worshipers where our soul becomes audible. Finally, our deeper understanding of life and the meaning of being human make our soul cry out to God for mercy. The cry of our soul comes out easily through music and worship. It has a companionship with human emotions and feelings. Hence, our spirituality, if not the whole truth but partially, is somehow connected to music.