The Dean - The Very Revd Andrew Nunn
1 Samuel 16. 14–23; Revelation 5.6–14
I’m not sure that I’ve ever met anybody who says that they don’t like music
Presumably, somewhere, someone doesn’t like it at all, but they must be a rather rare creature. What we mean by music and what music we like will vary wildly of course.
Last week the members of our young adults group came round to the Deanery for their summer party and I was introduced to a style of music I’d never even heard of. I’d heard of Garage and Grime – I wouldn’t be able to identify them but I’ve heard of them – but I’d never heard of Industrial – but I have now and I’ve heard it as part of a playlist. Each to their own.
But whatever it is that you personally like, would sit down to listen to, whoever it is that has influenced your musical tastes and love of music – after all Peter is only here because of his early admiration for 9-fingered Russ Conway – there’s a fundamental connection between music and humanity, between music and how we worship God.
It was St Augustine of Hippo who wrote that when we sing ‘we pray twice’ and that seems to be the experience of every religious person, from the rabbi in the synagogue, to the imam in a mosque, the Hindu priest in a temple, a Buddhist monk at his prayers, and we Christians, who sing and make music and make that so much of the way in which we ‘double pray’.
You may never really have noticed but if you look back, towards the west window you’ll see there three large statues. They actually come from the old organ case, the predecessor to the present case that houses our wonderful Lewis organ and they depict two angels blowing their trumpets and there, in between them, David playing his harp.
That delightful passage from the First Book of Samuel, which we heard read as the First lesson, is a reminder of the healing and calming qualities of music.
There is Saul, capricious, paranoid, thin-skinned, ready to take out those he perceives to be enemies, an unpredictable leader – not the first and certainly, as we know from the transatlantic escapades of last week, not the last – and those around him realise that for their own safety and sanity they need someone who can pick up the harp and calm down the king. They must have known already that Saul was something of a music lover, but they needed a court musician, they needed someone on hand for the moment when only music could help.
The psalmist, known traditionally as harp playing David, says in Psalm 47 ‘deep calls to deep’. Music carries the words into the heart of our being, stirs up our emotions, speaks to the parts to which other things cannot speak. Music is the bearer of our thoughts, our words, our souls. And that’s why John’s vision of heaven is full of music.
As we heard in the Second Lesson the host of heaven are caught up in an ongoing song of praise. We’re reminded of that every time we celebrate the Eucharist when the priest says ‘therefore with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.’ The song we sing here echoes the song in heaven, we harmonise, the tunes interweave to create a sound tapestry of ongoing praise.
That is why we do what we do and that is why the choral tradition in this country and especially as it’s maintained, curated and developed in our cathedrals is so important.
Peter Wright, to whom we say thank you and farewell today after over 30 years of leading the music making in this cathedral, has often reminded me and others that it’s the ‘opus dei’ the work of God, the worship that we offer, that’s the most important thing that we do. And, of course, sometimes annoyingly, he’s right.
I was guiding a group round the Cathedral the other evening and, as always brought them into the choir towards the end of our time in the building. This, I explained, is the heart of the church, the engine room of the cathedral, it’s in the chancel, in the choir, in the sanctuary that that opus dei is done, sung, said, prayed, day in, day out. Whilst we’re having to look at governance and robust financial reporting – not just here but in all cathedrals – whilst we take seriously the demands of safeguarding, of mission and strategy, yet if we begin to lose sight of what is at the core of our life, at the core of what it means to be a cathedral then we will lose much more than we can ever imagine.
Music that speaks to the heart, calms the soul, raises the vison, carries our prayers, echoes heaven, that is what it is all about and that is what we celebrate this afternoon.
Whether or not you can sing in tune, whether or not you can play an instrument, whether its grime or Gounod or even Russ Conway that makes your foot tap, music is a gift of God to humanity and a gift we must cherish, as we cherish those who make music for us, to the glory of God.