This latest series of ti morceaux have focused on aids to prayer. We considered posture and gesture, accessories like candles, icons, and incense, and so forth. In the last morceau, sound was mentioned, and in particular how singing can enhance prayer. Yes, it can even do so in solitary prayer!
But making your own music, whether vocally or – if you are among the fortunate few who play keyboards or some other instrument – is not the only kind of music which can add to the richness of one’s personal prayer time. Most of the great music out there is produced not by self but by professionals, in fact by talented artists who were hoping to inspire others by their work. Why not take them up on it?
I admit, for this to “work,” you have to be familiar with the music, or at the least, know a few general things about your musical choices. One would not use a military march by John Philip Sousa to accompany one’s morning or evening prayer – at least I hope not! But a soft movement from a flute concerto (say, Vivaldi’s “Goldfinch”) or an ethereal adagio movement from one of Beethoven’s later string quartets can often calm down a restless heart so it can pray. At least it often does mine!
Even more grandiose pieces, like symphonies, often try to express in music what the Scriptures express in words. Read Psalm 18, for example, with its shouts of triumph over the Lord’s salvation; aren’t some of its images also conjured up by a nice, full orchestral piece by Mahler? And one of the best ways to greet the dawn before praying morning prayer at sunrise – even if it could be overdone, I suppose – would be R. Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra.
Finally, remember that a great deal of classical music was written as religious music, whether for the liturgy itself or with inspiration from it. Mozart’s Requiem and Handel’s Messiah are but two of the more famous works that have inspired millions over the years. My personal favorite is the Russian Easter Overture by Rimsky-Korsakov – it never fails to inspire me on a major solemnity, even if it’s not Easter!
What about more popular music, you say? Well, frankly, it’s not completely worthless. In my day Webber & Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar, the Beatles’ Let It Be, and Paul Simon’s Graceland certainly inspired some prayer. Other popular music with which I’m not familiar surely has for others as well. Who knows? Maybe the overly-individualistic “praise and worship” tunes in vogue today might be good for some: if it actually brings one closer to God it can’t be all bad, I suppose!