Letting go from music into silence

Katrina DowlingMusicLeave a Comment

Are you doing any sort of fasting during Lent? We have one fasting discipline that we are doing as a community in our Sunday morning worship – we’re letting go of some of our music. It was introduced in this way on the order of service for the first Sunday of Lent:

The season of Lent is traditionally one of fasting and contemplation, modelled on the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness. To reflect this, there will be no prelude or postlude today, nor during any of the Sundays of Lent. This ‘fast’ from background music and the accompanying open silence are intended to provide an opportunity for reflection and private prayer – a time ‘in the wilderness’ for us.

On the first Sunday of this ‘wilderness’ experience, we took to it easily; I think most people found it to be a little more of a spacious experience of quiet rather than a deprivation of something good, which is undoubtedly also true of a fast. It was a good answer to the desire James had shared with the worship ministry group that our Lenten discipline would be about “relinquishing, not ripping out.”

Among the music team, when we contemplated letting go of our instrumental music before and after services for the duration of Lent, we immediately had a strong sense both of what we would be relinquishing and what the rewards might be. I paraphrase here some of the reflections from our musicians:

  • There are unique things that music can do for us in Lent, and we will dearly miss playing special seasonal pieces
  • There are also unique places that silence can take us to – we have a sense of anticipation about what might happen in this time
  • Having ‘decluttered’ the time before and after the service, with no competition between music and other activity, we will enjoy its simplicity
  • Being ‘in the wilderness’ in this way for musicians means a rest from some of the work of performing and a change of focus to other parts of our musical practice during Lent
  • We wonder how our appreciation of preludes and postludes might be enhanced when we reintroduce them after our fast

This Sunday (12th March) we’ll also have the experience of a short time for silent reflection in the midst of the service; Julie Hall says that a little breather like this “gives the soul time to catch up with the body.” Both Julie’s and our musicians’ insights remind me of Shirley Murray’s song “Come and find the quiet centre,” which says of clutter:

Come and find the quiet centre in the crowded life we lead… clear the chaos and the clutter, clear our eyes, that we can see all the things that really matter, be at peace, and simply be.

And of finding a pace at which soul and body come together:

Silence is a friend who claims us,
cools the heat and slows the pace,
God it is who speaks and names us…

This song goes with the tune Beech Spring. Since music and silence are such good partners, here’s a suggestion for an under-five-minute music and silence reflection time to try at home:

  1. Get a timer and set it for 2 minutes
  2. Read the quotes from Murray’s song above or all the lyrics at Hope Publishing
  3. Listen to Dan Carollo’s rendition of Beech Spring in the linked video
  4. After the music, start your timer, expect the lyrics to be true for you in the coming moments, relax and enjoy your silent time!

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