Reflections on the Relevance of Classical Music

[This reflection was originally distributed as a program insert at my graduate recital, DePaul University School of Music, Chicago, 2008.]

At a recent symphony concert, a woman in the audience furrowed her eyebrows when she learned that my two friends and I were graduate students in violin performance. “Where is your future?” She stammered. “Have you noticed the hair color of the majority of this audience?”

These questions triggered more questions in my mind. Should we musicians pursue a profession where the “strong survive and the weak get crushed”? Should we feel threatened by a bleak outlook on a “dying” musical genre? If our concert halls are cold and empty or void of the younger generation, should we find another venue or vary our presentation? Do we believe strongly enough in the “rightness” of Beethoven, the depth of Brahms and the spirituality of Bach that we would fight for their survival? Or is there something even greater that would beguile us to such a cause?

For many, melodies and harmonies give meaning to life. They slip through our fingers, but draw us back again. Music gives an idea of perfection that keeps evading us the closer we trod. Live music somehow helps us to live the present moment beyond the barrier of time. It’s a puzzling paradox of hope and longing, of a rightness that seems so close but never completely within our reach. Why does a quest for beauty so captivate our hearts and an aim for perfection frustrate us? Are these ideals really what we desire? Or are they merely echoes of a voice? So often moved by the beauty of music, my heart compels me to believe the latter.

The metaphysical complexity of music not only fascinates me; it allows me to better know the Composer and Conductor of life. Symphonies give me a picture of what God intended the world to be: a place of unity, harmony and diversity. Yes, my world is broken, but not hopeless. Jesus is my greatest hope and most precious treasure. As music kindles that passion and compels me to surrender to Christ, I am empowered by his strength, sustained by his grace, and secure in his love.

Clearly, not every moment is glorious. I deal with disappointment, imperfection and uncertainty on a daily basis, but I finally gave up on consequential thoughts of quitting. In Christ, my future is secure. Music helps me to anticipate a world made right and to sing of that hope even today, a hope that is available through God’s radical mercy and rescue from my enslaving sin. Such a pursuit may not easily add up in dollars, but I dream about taking the beauty and hope of Christ to the most oppressed corners of the world. In light of eternity, it seems as though music—varied across genre, era and culture—is entirely relevant.

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