"Dripping with God": the inescapable subject of choral music
A couple of weeks ago, this fascinating and powerful article was brought to my attention in which a woman from America writes piercingly about her relationship with choral music which is complicated particularly by her atheism and mental health struggles. In the former there is of course some dissonance, given how 'at choir, God reigns in more ways than one' not least in that many of the texts are 'dripping with God', and in the latter much resonance - 'singing is one of the few coping mechanisms that can uplift my mood or snap me out of a panic attack'. I don't want to say too much more about it, but recommend that you grab a cuppa with a friend from the Music Network, give it a read (it's just shy of 3000 words), and see if these questions prove helpful in prompting discussion:
On the nature of music
1. 'Music nourishes me;'
- To what extent can we affirm this statement? At what point does such a sentiment cross the boundary into idolatry?
2. 'instead of ignoring the omnipresence of God in the choir room, I fell in love with it.'
- How and why might the (quasi-)spiritual nature of music-making be both useful and risky, both to us personally, and in our outreach to others in our ensembles?
On the author's experience of Christianity
3. 'I am the type of atheist who recognizes, with great dissonance, that believing in God could smooth out a lot for me — big, weighty questions whose answers I can’t find in the science I know and trust. What if I believed there was a purpose behind the heartsick I feel almost every day?'
- How do you react to the author's honesty here, and in other places in the article?
4. 'After all, when I came out late in high school, the few friends who disappeared were Christian friends. Choir friends.'
- How do you react to this sobering reminder that as Christians we are often not very good at loving others? How might you be more intentional in cultivating such friendships?
On music and mental health
5. 'More than once I waded through a thick black cloud of depression to rehearsal just to sing this piece, whose forceful magic transported me someplace else, someplace far away from the church and my body and my broken brain. More than once I shook with tears at the song’s booming crux: “Gaudium quod immensum est.” A joy which is immense.'
- How could, and indeed why should, Christians be at the forefront of writing, performing, and generally using music in therapeutic contexts and as a tool for healing?
6. 'I looked for language in choral music [to express my hopes and fears regarding my bipolarity], but still something seemed wrong...'
- How might Christian composers helpfully add more to the repertoire to provide such language?
On choral texts
7. 'despite the comfort and joy I feel here, the stories we raise up through music don’t always feel like mine to tell.'
- How might we use sacred texts be useful common ground with which to talk of Christ, given that they are our stories to tell?
8. 'The library of text I hold so dear is a container for questions I’m already asking, something I mold like soft clay in my hands until it’s familiar to me.'
- Have you thought of sacred texts like this? How do you react to the idea that this library can be moulded? Take a favourite choral work of yours and see what questions it raises and to what extent it answers them.
The author's conclusion
9. 'The singing itself is the real answer: this ritual I’ve cherished since I was too young to know myself, this constant that’s outlasted any lover and stayed by my side for 20 years as others have come and gone.'
- How does the author's conclusion make you feel? How can you both empathise and dissent?