[LMB] OT: Thought for the day

Katherine Collett kcollett at hamilton.edu
Wed Sep 7 20:26:39 BST 2011

On Sep 7, 2011, at 2:43 PM, Carol Cooper wrote:
> I'm an atheist, but was deeply moved
> by some of the art in the Vatican (and deeply amused/revolted by some of the
> more over the top stuff).  It brings to mind an instance when I remarked to
> a religious friend that when I sing 'Messiah' I share and can understand the
> emotions the music is meant to evoke, and she suggested that in fact it was
> God speaking to me and trying to inspire me through the music.  I was quite
> certain it wasn't - it was Handel speaking, conveying his own feelings about
> the story through his music.  The thing is, the reason some artists or
> musicians are great is because of their ability to convey emotions and ideas
> through their art - and you don't have to be a Christian to be moved to pity
> when viewing a 'pieta' and the depiction of a mother grieving - you're
> looking at a basic human emotion.
> We're performing Adams's 'On the Transmigration of Souls' - a memorial to
> the 911 victims - the next couple of nights.  I don't know anyone who was
> involved that day, but this work has a heck of an emotional impact.

Similarly, I'm singing with a bunch of local singers who have been rehearsing over the summer to perform Mozart's Requiem on Sunday.  It's an offering in memory of the dead--one don't have to be a Christian to participate or appreciate it.  Or, if you are a Christian, to believe every (Latin) word we're singing.

I do a lot of Sacred Harp/shapenote singing (if you don't know what it is, see fasola.org -- and http://fasola.org/introduction/ for the historical background).  The people who come to all-day singings include atheists, agnostics, Jews, Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Wiccans, folk-singers, ethnomusicologists, rock musicians, in spite of--or perhaps because--the explicitly Christian, often death-focused words, many of them early-eighteen-century psalm translations by Isaac Watts.  I guess this is just to agree with Carol's point that these things evoke basic human emotions.  Religion was the conduit for how people dealt with these emotions in art or music for most of history; one can still respond to the emotions without agreeing with the religious elements.


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