There is a great deal of music in heaven. In the book of Revelation the angels and archangels ceaselessly sing God’s praises. Many would say that music lifts them beyond themselves and transports them into heaven: music can be a sign of heaven and a means of getting there.
In writing my book Reconciliation – the Journey of a Lifetime, I came to realise the significance of music in reconciliation. In this reflection, I consider the relationship between music and reconciliation from three perspectives:
- a language for describing reconciliation;
- a means of reaching reconciliation ;
- a description of the first fruits of reconciliation.
In my book I indicate that reconciliation is very difficult to define and it is often best captured in story. Here I want to add that it can also be captured in music and song.
1.Music as a language for describing reconciliation
A therapist friend compared her work to conducting an orchestra. She described her role as making sure that the different instruments (or voices) within each person were properly recognised, acknowledged and heard. She frequently had to quieten some parts of the ‘orchestra’ in order that she could draw out other, sometimes more significant, instruments or voices. Clergy sometimes describe their role in liturgy and in parish life as conducting an orchestra and their role is to keep it together and in tune. My own experience is that ministry is more like encouraging a jazz band, where instruments go off to improvise and finally come back and join the rest of the group which welcomes them back. Whichever kind of music group one chooses, the conductor or animator has the responsibility for some kind of reconciliation between the instruments. Thus music, in a variety of forms, is a rich metaphor for describing reconciliation, whether it is inner reconciliation or in holding together activity. And there is more.
Composer Arnold Schoenburg writes of ‘Emancipating dissonance.’ In his music, Schoenberg employed atonality through musical chords which sounded dissonant to the contemporary ear and which, emotionally, cried out for resolution into a sound which was pleasing and acceptable. Schoenberg observed that as the ear became accustomed to the atonal sound within a particular context, the discordant atonality will eventually become emancipated from that context, find a new context and become acceptable. In other words, what sounds atonal today, will sound natural tomorrow. This has happened in music across the centuries in that musical sequences which were regarded as atonal and discordant at one time, were heard and received with question at a later time. Other composers, including Duke Ellington, connected Schoenberg’s concept with society and humanity.
‘Emancipating dissonance’ provides a way of viewing the contradictions which will be encountered in reconciliation. It helps us understand how we need to be able to live with paradox – to resist thinking that, in reconciliation, everything needs to be neat and in agreement in the world’s terms. It is not the task of reconciliation to resolve the contradictions, but to emancipate them when the time is ripe. Williams Carlos Williams expresses this succinctly:
(if you are interested)
Leads to discovery.
2.Music as a means of reaching reconciliation
In Bethlehem, there is an SOS Village. SOS Villages were first founded after World War II to enable children orphaned during the war to be brought up and nurtured in family environments. Children in the SOS Village in Bethlehem have been traumatized by the experiences of living through rigors of being occupied by Israel. Many have seen parents frightened and humiliated and some have had their homes bulldozed. The trauma has been intensified by the sight of heavily-armed soldiers and even tanks present in streets.
A music therapist from a church in the diocese of Rochester went to this SOS village to see whether music therapy would help with the inner healing and reconciliation of the young residents – at this time, there were no music therapists in Palestine. The effect was remarkable. Everybody was amazed at how music helped these young people work with and through their traumas. Music therapy provided a means of outer expression and is a means of inner reconciliation. Such inner reconciliation can be spur to activity which brings reconciliation to other parts of life.
As a result of this, churches in Rochester raised the funds to train a Palestinian in music therapy in the UK (training was not available in Israel for a Palestinian) in the hope that he, in turn, would encourage others to become music therapists.
Another example of music being a means to reconciliation can be seen in the ‘Singing Revolution’ in Estonia. Estonia has always expressed and deepened its identity in song. During the period of Soviet occupation (from 1944) Estonians were forbidden from singing songs in Estonian, especially at the great, national song festivals which take place every five years. In the late 1980s, when the Soviet Union were loosening their grip on some of their satellite states, Estonians gathered, against the law, to sing their songs in Estonian. This movement grew and grew until, in September 1944, over 300,000 gathered in the Song Festival Grounds in the capital, Tallinn, to sing their national songs. The Soviet Union lost its grip of the country and in 1991, Estonia formally gained its independence. It was the music which was banned during the 50 years of Soviet occupation and which Estonians sang, which strengthened an inner reconciliation which, in turn, was the beginning of outer, in this case, political reconciliation for the people of Estonia.
3. Music as a description of the first fruits of reconciliation – a glimpse of heaven.
The West-Eastern Divan orchestra was created in 1999 by two artists and intellectuals. Daniel Barenboim, an Argentine-Israeli musician, and Edward Said, a Palestinian-American academic, organized a workshop for young musicians from Israel and various Middle Eastern countries. The aim was to draw together musical study and the sharing of knowledge between people from cultures that have traditionally been rivals. In the workshops, Israelis and Arabs communicated and expressed themselves through their music freely and openly while hearing the narrative of the other.
The founders did not regard the formation of the orchestra as a political project but there was a vision shared between the two founders. Firstly, both believed that there could not be a military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Secondly, the future of Israeli and Palestinian are inextricably linked and that the Holy Land is a place for two peoples.
The orchestra gives concerts around the world. Not only is the orchestra a powerful experience for those playing in it, but it is also a profound statement of hope for those watching and listening to their concerts. The music from the orchestra is the sound of reconciliation and the orchestra is its embodiment.
I end with a question. Although they were full of struggle, St. Paul regarded the churches he founded as communities of reconciliation. This leads to a challenge to our churches. Is the music in our churches a reconciling force or a dividing force? Is the music the imposition of a minority? Is it something in which all have a spiritual investment? Are there a variety of styles reflecting and encouraging a variety of people? To summarise, do the styles, expressions and words of the music in our churches enable or disable reconciliation?
Drawn from a talk given to clergy Research Seminar for the Diocese of Rochester, 6th October 2014.