Our last post -- All Together Now! -- reviewed the six that came before it to suggest that what we had discovered through those explorations is that our blog's initial hypothesis was in fact true: although often not often realized, only liturgical music has the inherent capacity to be a Rebel Yell, as it alone has the capacity to simultaneously embrace all of the prerequisites for such a countercultural cry: what is primitive, classic, ritual, sacred, world and folk.
In acknowledging the unifying attributes of these six resonances -- with what is primal, lasting, rewarding in repetition, separate from the mundane, of appeal across cultures and contexts, and communal by nature -- we further noted that the title of one of the chants we cited was therefore particularly interesting: Laudate Omnes Gentes, a commandment of two possible interpretations, one "to praise all nations" and a second "for all nations to praise (God)".
At that time we said that each interpretation is equally apropos, and should perhaps be this blog's next tier of exploration, along with a long and repeated imagining of what we would hear if the music we listened to in that post -- Dagbon drumming from northern Ghana, Morocco's repeated Gnawa refrains, and Taizé's unifying use of Latin chorales -- were blended together into a single sound.
Do not think these two experiments -- one of words and one of music -- are unrelated.
First consider that Taizé is at the core of many strains of Christianity speaking diverse languages coming together, Gnawa was central to starting the now over two-decade old Sacred Music of the World Festival, and that drum circles have engaged participatory audiences far beyond their various indigenous adherents.
But second, despite this apparent ecumenical and internationalist spirit, do not underestimate the lyrical challenge: remember from our first post, George Harrison's explicit embrace of the sacred never sat as well with his audiences as John Lennon's secular approach to similar themes, even when a particular melody proved equally popular (for example, compare Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth) with Imagine).
And so we come to this week's musical offerings.
First, Jean Sibelius's composition, Finlandia Hymn, originally a protest song without words in order to avoid Soviet censorship, the implicit patriotism of which was realized by subsequent lyrics nearly four decades later, but not before the inherent primitive, classic, ritual, sacred, world and folk qualities of its melody and harmony alone (it is even frequently mistaken and mis-cited as an arrangement and orchestration of a traditional tune instead of the Sibelius original that it is) was appropriated by a host of Christian lyricists.
To fully consider its power and potential as a Rebel Yell:
- Listen to it here in communal performance by professional and parishioner alike at St. Bart's in NYC;
- Read, sing, and/or perform it yourself using this provided common arrangement;
- Hear the words clearly in this solo vocal acapella rendition by Joan Baez -- and read a few of the expletive laden comments to this YouTube video due to offense taken by the song's use in Christian contexts (even though this video is not one of those occasions)
The second musical offering is one of my own, sans lyrics like Sibelius for now, that does seek to blend the sensibilities if not the specific musical attributes of Dagbon, Gnawa and Taizé. More precisely, I have taken what is classic -- the short Bach piece you hear as prelude -- and tried to make it sacred by infusing it with a sense of the world/ritual/folk through a process I can only call "primitivizing": I play only its most essential elements on instruments I have never taken a lesson.
It is by definition music that could be played by any amateur, in the best sense of that word: from the Latin "amator", a lover.
For isn't that what it means to worship: to be in love?
And so our blog comes to another blending: what would happen if this week's two musical offerings -- a coopted Sibelius and a primitivized Bach -- came together?
Again, would it be a new liturgy?
A Rebel Yell?
A commandment to praise all nations or for all nations to praise?
And is there any difference between the two?
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