The Sounds of Music

Published 6:44 pm Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Last week I wrote about the sound of silence. In one of the twists and turns that makes life interesting, I spent Sunday immersed in the sounds of music.

It started Sunday morning when the children performed a rap song before the congregation. I grinned from ear to ear during their whole performance. The words were familiar hymns but the music was definitely today’s genre.

It wasn’t my grin that mattered as much as the sight of a dozen or so young children grinning as well. How they learn to make those sounds into a microphone is beyond me, but the words of praise still had their message, just in a format I am not used to.

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Later that day I drove to Perry, Ga., to an organ concert. It was hard to give up my Sunday afternoon nap to drive 150 miles one way, but I was rewarded for my efforts. The magnificent new organ and beautiful new concert piano in the First Baptist Church of Perry were being dedicated. The two guest performers got all there was to get out of these two instruments and in doing so left the audience in awe.

Can you get any more different than a rap song in a Presbyterian church and classical music in a Baptist church? Traditional versus contemporary music is one of the great debates going on in our churches today. Yet on this day, I can’t help but feel that God was smiling and tapping his foot at the same time, pleased at the different ways we can offer praise and worship.

I was in junior high school when my parents bought me a small Hammond Organ. There was a larger one at church and between the two, I learned to love the music that an organ can provide. Although I took classical piano for many years, I learned to play the organ on my own.

For 28 years, I have been playing the organ at First Presbyterian Church in Donalsonville. The organ and piano have given me infinitely more pleasure than I have given to others during the many worship services, funerals and weddings over that period of time.

But it is when I hear someone really trained and talented, playing an instrument that truly showcases their talent, that my heart soars and I hear what I wish I had been.

The new organ in Perry had three manuals and 80 stops. It could sound gentle with a small flute or massive with a sub bass. It could be brilliant with a trumpet or smooth with an assortment of strings.

Twenty-eight speakers around the sanctuary provided the congregation with the sense that the music was coming from everywhere. With the push of a button, the organ could go from a Cathedral Organ to an Orchestral Organ; seven different organs in one console.

The pipes of the grand organs of the past were replaced with the latest technology of the present, replicating sounds of the finest organs in the world. From soft quiet sounds, it would grow to fullness capable of moving the chandeliers and reverberating in your very soul.

All of this was complemented by a shiny black concert piano; an instrument that evolved from the harpsichord and clavichord in the eighteenth century. Not nearly as old as the organ, the piano as we know it wasn’t fully developed until the mid 1800’s.

The clear, bright tones of the Yamaha Concert Grand filled the large room as the selection of songs grew more and more difficult. Both in solo pieces and in concert with the organ, the piano was every bit the match for the powerful organ.

I arrived early enough to sit where I could witness the hands of the pianist and the feet of the organist. They both flew up and down the keyboards with the ease that only a God-given talent and years of practice can perfect.

It takes an artisan to build an organ or piano like the two on display, but it also takes an artist to transform them from a piece of furniture into an instrument worthy of their cost.

Combine the talent and instruments with the ageless beauty of some of the great classical music of all time and it is a setting that can soften the hardest heart. I closed my eyes and let the power of the music surround me knowing that it was a special time.

Mozart called the organ the “king of instruments.” It was Bach himself that probably reached the pinnacle of organ compositions, many written after he had totally lost his hearing.

Some of the grandest organs date back hundreds of years and may have as many as 12,000 pipes; from the size of a pencil to 64 feet tall. They have been central in silent films, ballparks and of course, churches throughout the world.

As I drove back from Perry on Sunday evening, basking in the glow of a wonderful concert, my mind kept going back to the grinning faces of the young boys making their rap debut during children’s church that morning.

Psalm 98 says to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” We are blessed that there are so many different ways to do that. We may personally like some types of that “noise” more than others, but I suspect God enjoys all of the sounds of music.