I feel a bit of a musical theme emerging and I can’t think why. Well, maybe you can guess! Music has been a huge part of my life for longer than I can remember and is as great a teacher now as it’s ever been. And as I engage with pupils of all ages, playing at a variety of levels, I am reminded once again that music offers success and satisfaction over a wide range of abilities and in many different styles.
Music itself is a language which can transcend barriers of physical ability, race, age and many more of the divisions which occur artificially in human society – and yet, all too often, human beings do the same thing to music as they do to Christian faith, holding one style of music superior to another, seeking to create elitism.
The musical world, like the Church, is riven by factions. The motivations may be different at times but the result is equally sad. There is polarisation around individuals; around styles of music. I recall the story of George Gershwin who lived and composed in the early part of the twentieth century. An accomplished classical musician of great promise he disappointed many of his generation because his work blended classical styles in music with more popular idioms, notably jazz. In his time he was not popular with either ‘faction’ (an over-simplification, I know) and it took a long time for his work to be fully appreciated.
I guess that, for some, the objection to jazz was associated with deep racial prejudice and had nothing to do with music. In the same way Christian divisions are sometimes unspiritual, driven by racial, social and other prejudices. As I write this in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity I’m drawn back to Gershwin and his attempt to blur the edges (again, in simple terms) between classical and popular traditions.
There are some styles of music I’m not keen on, some that I dislike intensely, as well as those that I love. Does that mean that there can never be unity in the world of music? Must we all agree on everything and enjoy the same things; live in the same way? Unity is about seeing the connections rather than dwelling on the contradictions; seeing that heads and tails, while in opposition, are both sides of the same coin.
The variety in music gathers many people of widely differing backgrounds, abilities, and desires under one heading. God seeks to do the same through the Church. Let me leave you with this thought. Consider the rainbow. White light is split up (refracted) into an infinite range of colours. Our eyes perceive the main bands – but look carefully at where red becomes orange, or orange becomes yellow … Is it a clear line or is it blurred?
The Church is a panoply of different traditions; different understandings. Unity is about maintaining the diversity and celebrating the Gershwins who blur the edges….