Christian Philharmonic

Royal Liverpool PhilharmonicFor years I have meant to do this! I love my church and I love orchestral music and many times I have imagined how one reflects the other. I always meant to jot these down so at last here are some. I may add to them because some I think I may have forgotten.

Musical appreciation
Not everyone likes music. And those that do often differ between what they like and what they don’t. Why is this?  It seems there is something indefinable that allows some to genuinely love a particular style of music. So with Christians. What is it that allows some to see the truth of the Risen Jesus and others to be blind to it?  It’s easy enough to say the Spirit opens eyes and hearts but I’m not sure that this is a sufficient answer.  But genuineness is difficult to feign in love of music and I think it is similar with our love of God.

The concept of harmony is quite sublime. Why do some notes fit together and others do not, and why is it that those that fit together produce such a sweet impression on the ear? When a church is in harmony it is a sweet experience for those inside and those outside the church.  Also the idea of harmony is radically different from unison. An orchestra playing in unison would be quite dull but as each different note is played along with its neighbour the result is beautiful and often sublime. As Christians we are not asked to play exactly the same tune but when our own tune is played with others it brings glory to God.

Theory and practice
I read many books on the theory of music and harmony.  One explains how harmonic progressions should be made.  But there is only one way to prove these – play them. I met a man that claimed to be able to play French Horn but I never heard him play.  At best he would be someone we imagined was a musician. So with the church; do you say you are a Christian? Has anyone seen you practising?

Sections of the orchestra
I am fascinated by the different sections of the orchestra. Strings, brass, woodwind and percussion developed over centuries to combine in a pleasant and complementary way. Not just the instruments, musicians know that brass players are a different breed to string players Strauss reportedly said “Never look at the trombones, it only encourages them”. Each section has its strengths and styles but only together does the symphony shine. As Christians we are different we reflect the ‘multicoloured wisdom of God’ – we should have our own strengths and styles but together we should make the church shine in such a way that people see Jesus in the light.

An audience
Does an orchestra need an audience? Well its debatable but I suggest that’s why we have orchestras, it’s certainly why they began.  An orchestra locked away is hardly much use? So with a church, we were made to ‘perform’ to an audience by which I mean we were commanded to preach the good news and let our light shine before mankind.

The Composer’s Score
What does the orchestra play? It plays music that comes from a composer (OK some orchestras can improvise, but that really doesn’t need a composer does it?)  The notes are there in black and white but when the audience listens they don’t hear the black dots and white spaces, they hear the music that was conceived in the mind of the composer. So with us, when people hear us using the bible let it be that they don’t hear the words but see the spirit of the author shining through!

It is possible to play without a conductor but most orchestras, given the opportunity, would  always prefer a good conductor. He or she is not just waving a stick at them but does most of the work before the concert. Giving ideas, suggestions, encouragement, sometimes correction and guidance.  Challenging the musicians to put their heart and soul into the coming performance.  A good conductor really can set an orchestra alight and a poor one can cause a rebellion (I have seen many!) Jesus said “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” – do I really need to spell this one out!

I also think it is more than just an analogy. Bach said “The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul” so I think there is more in common than we may first think?

More quotes about music:

How could you have a soccer team if all were goalkeepers? How would it be an orchestra if all were French horns?” – Desmond Tutu

A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.” – Max Lucado

You can’t play a symphony alone, it takes an orchestra to play it.” – Navjot Singh Sidhu

About David Allsopp

Married, 4 children, Christian, Head of IT
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3 Responses to Christian Philharmonic

  1. John Shortt says:

    Thank you for this, David. In a similar way, some see the beauty of a work of art and others don’t. D. Z. Phillips, the Welsh philosopher of religion influenced by Ludwig Wittgenstein and Simone Weil, wrote of education in matters of faith as being like ‘elucidation of a thing of beauty’. This suggests that Christian education may be, at least in part, more like drawing attention to features of a work of art so that our students may come to see the ‘Big Picture’ for themselves than one of leading them through a process of rational argumentation. I personally think there is a lot in this. Going back to music, have you read any of Jermy Begbie’s writings? If not, I recommend them. Try for a start.

    • Thanks for the comment John, Jeremy has clearly mused along quite similar lines but for a bit longer and bit deeper! Perhaps the reason I have put off writing this short article for so long is I sometimes feel I am just treating music as an allegory rather than seeing it as an active part of God’s creation, as if God made music for one purpose and his gospel for another! His comments on how we each take to different music with different emotions seems closer to how it parallels our experience of God? As you say, I can’t teach you to love the music I love any more than I can teach you to love God!

  2. John Shortt says:

    But you can help me, David! I remember a colleague from my days as a school-teacher whose school assemblies were often based on a work of art. He would put it up on the screen and we would all think, “Another old painting!”. Then he would begin to draw attention to feature after feature and help us to walk into that painting and be taken up with it. They were truly transformative experiences. Can we not help others to love God in a somewhat similar way even though, in the final analysis, it is the Holy Spirit who opens eyes to see?!

    Music an active part of God’s creation? Amen to that! Is he not the great artist, the great musician, the great mathematician, the great physicist, …?! There was a hierarchy of subjects in the curriculum in the school where I was teaching with subjects like maths at the top and subjects like ceramics at the bottom … so, although myself a maths teacher, I want to shout that God is also the great potter! These curriculum subjects are all windows into God’s creation and all spheres of our service as his image-bearers.

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