Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Urns & Outs: Music is Moral Law

(As published in the Dead Beat, Fall, 2016)
It is no secret that I love Elton John. His contagious personality and music have always made me smile, and there are so many of his songs that I can’t help but sing along with. Even his deep cuts are enjoyable and Bernie Taupin’s lyrics complete the overall sound that has become the trademark of his classic songs.
As much as I love Elton John, it is tough for me to choose from his repertoire an absolute favorite song. The bubblegum fun of Crocodile Rock, the melancholy of Someone Saved My Life Tonight, or maybe the spacey sound of Rocketman... the complacency of Roy Rogers... the hopefulness of Are You Ready for Love... those are all among his most well-known, and several rank in my favorites. Above all those, though, his hit Levon from his Madman Across the Water album, is probably at the top of the list.
In my interpretation, Levon tells the story of a normal guy; he is proud of who he is, he was born into meager circumstances but he has money. Levon has a son named  Jesus (because he likes the name), who wants to leave the mundane world he lives in and go far away from his father. Some of the story we hear about Levon and Jesus are very parabolic in nature, and much is left to the interpretation of the listener. For instance, “Jesus wants to go to Venus, and leave Levon far behind.” I take those words to mean that Jesus wants to go far away from where he grew up, maybe out from under his father’s watchfulness. But why Venus of all places? Maybe, for those of us who believe in love, it is a representation of that planet’s ancient symbolism and influence in the area of love.
I think that one of the primary reasons that I like the song Levon is that it really speaks to me. Sure the tune is catchy, and the lyrics rhyme well, but even more than that it speaks to the part of me that is so afraid of change but longs so much for the very change I fear. I want to leave and go far away at times, and I often long for sailing away to where love lives.
Have you ever had a song speak to you that way? Maybe it is a hymn that stirs your soul, or a favorite love song. Music can really touch our innermost being, the soul of life.
Think of how music can touch and soothe the soul of the grieving. In the same way that I can hear the thirst for change and new beginnings in the sounds of Levon, the families that we serve can be transformed by music as well. A minister can stand and speak and share goodness and life, but when a song plays, there is something about the combination of words and music that speaks when words cannot penetrate. I cannot remember the exact words that were spoken at my Granny’s remembrance service earlier this year, and I spoke the words. But I can remember the music that was played, the song that I shared.
Recently, I attended a concert by the Arkansas Philharmonic Orchestra in Northwest Arkansas. The concert was titled “A Night at the Movies” and played various pieces from the compositions of John Williams, well known for his memorable movie scores such as Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Superman, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and E.T. the Extraterrestrial, among others. Prior to the start of the concert, there was a discussion time with the conductor of the orchestra and he discussed the importance of music in movies. My friend who was with me raised the topic of movie music manipulating the viewer to invoke a certain emotion. Think about how that is true in life in general and not just in movies. Think about how a song can take you back to another place or time, and for that instant you are experiencing the same feelings once more. A song can catapult you into the future where things are maybe different or exciting.
Only music has this power.
Plato wrote, “Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.”
That’s my perspective as well!