Of Composers and Symphonies

Music, you know, is simply amazing.

“There are 12 unique named tones in Western music; all pitches are one of these 12 tones. Thus, from a purely sonic perspective, there are only twelve starting notes for a key, and with major and minor scale qualities, there are 24 tonally unique keys.”

That’s from a music theory site. I’m not that savvy. I know what’s astounding, though: from 24 tonally unique keys, literally millions of melodies have been created from limitless combinations of those 24 notes. When different instruments play these tonally unique keys, they sound different, which creates more variety of sound. Music exists in a practically infinite world of possibilities, and some incredibly gifted people have the ability, talent and persistence to play in this particular sandbox.

I got to listen to our local symphony orchestra today. From the first few bars, I was in tears. The beauty of a truly good symphony can’t be overrated; it creates an instant, visceral reaction. I took years of music lessons and some theory, too, but I can’t even begin to dissect it intellectually. It’s like a perfect pie or a delectable stew. The notes, the chords, the written score, the instruments, the performers are the ingredients of the finished work, which if done well seems beyond one person to create.

Yet here’s the rub: in essence, one person does create these works. Couldn’t help thinking about the unfathomable and enviable gift God gave composers, of taking not one, not two, but 15-20 instruments and writing interwoven melodies and harmonies for all of them. Holy cow. If you listen to everything going on at once in a piece of music for symphony, it’s truly astounding to think of the artistry, intelligence, focus and determination employed by a composer of such masterpieces. (If I’m using over-the-top language today, it’s because I’m blown away and probably trying too hard to convey it.)

I love the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus. In the final scene… wait, I won’t give it away because you should see it. Suffice it to say, the movie captures the amount of work it would take to create just five minutes of beautiful symphony. Today I heard one piece that was almost 30 minutes long. I heard another that was just seven minutes, but was composed inside the concentration camp Terezin. Talk about a flower poking through the concrete.

It isn’t lost on me that my God is the creator of an eternal symphony. He weaves all of history into a beautiful piece that we probably couldn’t even bear hearing this side of heaven, it would be so breathtaking. Each Old Testament story, every act of Jesus, and the New Testament’s explanation of what He has done for us in Christ are woven together into the part of the piece we already know. All those expressions of truth, like violin, cello, piccolo and clarinet parts, carry different melodies but in concert with the others present a true and stunning picture of what our God has done, is doing, and will do. That’s remarkable enough (that we know so much of our great Composer’s work). What is truly cool is that there’s so much more to come. The symphony is far from over. It started thousands of years ago and will go on forever. We will hear it finished when everyone gets Home, and we will worship that Composer with hands raised and (I suspect) tears of joy, for His artistry. A Creator who in turn gives creative ability to those he made, must want us to think of Him in this way. This is one of the few instances where the word “awesome” actually applies.

 

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