Music is the Language of the Soul

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow first uttered the phrase, "Music is the universal language of mankind," more than 200 years ago in his book, "Outre-Mer: A Pilgrimage Beyond the Sea" published in 1835. Greek philosopher, Plato, said, "Music is the movement of sound to reach the soul for the education of its virtue." Here are some practical ways to allow music to elevate your soul.

Our vocational call to holiness, received at Baptism, came with a gift: music. English poet and writer, Walter Savage Landor, once said, "Music is God's gift to man, the only art of Heaven given to earth, the only art of earth we take to Heaven." Music makes the journey through the vocational call to holiness lighter and easier.

A life-long musician with the majority of that experience gained in the world of church music (I have been playing the organ in church since about age 10), I can easily recognize a piece of music that lifts my soul. In this simple essay, I hope to share with the reader a few examples of music that speak directly to my soul, with a hope of stimulating for you a means of prayer through music. While this approach may be a bit out of the ordinary, I hope you come away from the exercise with lifted soul and with hope for what comes today, tomorrow, and beyond.

Of course, organ music is the mainstay of my preferred musical genres. And what better example of the power of music than J.S. Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Plug in your head phones or ear buds and give it a listen. The music is powerful, chest shaking, and soul-filled, yet parts of it (starting at about 2:40 in this recording) literally dance, lifting the soul to a world beyond what we know on earth. And, at 7:57, take in the low D, the third lowest note on an organ pedalboard. Rarely does a note appear in music with the strength and force it does here. There are, literally, hundreds (if not thousands) of pieces I could offer, but this one piece seems to bring it all together.

In 2009, a Scottish woman from the Glasgow area, Susan Boyle, rocked Britain's Got Talent with her rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream," from Les Miserables. While her performance was stunning (I challenge you to get through this without tearing up) the words and the music of Herbert Kretzmer (English lyrics) and Claude-Michel Schönberg speak of the disappointment and destruction of a life lived in hope for earthly things. The lyrics bring light to the message of Jesus to the rich young man and to his disciples: focus on things of heaven.

One of the greatest composers of 20th century sacred choral music is John Rutter, an Englishman with an impressive resumé. Listen here to the opening movement of his time-honored classic, Requiem, released in 2016. The piece begins in darkness, with an almost sinister overtone, quiet, lurking, when the first lyrics, "Requiem aeternam," (in English, "eternal rest") commence in repitition and crescendo. At 0:54, we hear, "dona eis Domine," (in English, "grant unto them, O Lord") this, too, building in crescendo until 1:08 when, as if breaking through the atmosphere into the realm of our eternal home, the music and lyrics change and light appears. "Et lux perpetua luceat eis," (in English, "and let perpertual light shine upon them"), the music and lyrics combine to open heaven to any listener ready to receive it. Finally, at 1:45, the joy of heaven joins the lyrical  "Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine et lux perpetua luceat eis," raising death for the believer from fearsome darkness to a pathway to eternal life. The power of music and lyrics complementing one another in this piece is overwhelming. Be overwhelmed! The piece closes with the main musical theme returning after a forceful interlude, the melody now complementing the lyrics, "Kyrie eleison," (in English, "Lord have mercy.") Enjoy every moment!

Next is a piece that served as one of the themes of World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow, Poland. I had the privilege of accompanying my youngest daughter, Lucy, to the event along with a group of pilgrims from the Diocese of Lincoln, NE. "Jesu, Ufam Tobie," translates from its native Polish to English, "Jesus, I trust in You." This piece, an ostinato, defined by as "a constantly recurring melodic fragment," is just that. A repitious, melodic segment that serves as a meditation on a very simple faith element, "Jesus, I trust in You." For another version of the message, "Jesu, Ufam Tobie," (and a great video to boot!) check out this recording of the Offertory Procession at the Closing Mass of WYD 2016. Lucy and I were in the crowd of more than 1.5 million people that morning. Talk about your soul-lifting experiences!

No one does Christmas Carols like the English, and no English group does them like the Choir of Kings College. Here are two offerings that are sure to make your soul soar: Jesus Christ, the Apple Tree, and my all-time favorite Christmas carol, "O Come, All Ye Faithful." 

A quick return to WYD 2016 for a terrific rendition of, "Jesus Christ, You are My Life." Here, it all speaks for itself and warrants no editorial comment. Even the Polish lyrics need no translation. This was at the opening Mass for the WYD event. Once again, Lucy and I were in that crowd.

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Happy listening! And may your soul be lifted by music today and everyday!

Images accessed from the Internet and attributed as follows: J.S. Bach -  Celebrating J.S. Bach – Bach Plus Weekend – CAMMAC; Susan Boyle - I Dreamed a Dream: Susan Boyle, Susan Boyle, Susan Boyle: Music; Rutter Requiem - Rutter: Requiem - Album by John Rutter, Choir of King's College, Cambridge, Stephen Cleobury | Spotify; Jesu Ufam Tobie - Jezu ufam Tobie - obraz |; A King's College Christmas - Kings College Choir - Kings College Christmas - Music; Krakow WYD 2016 - World Youth Day 2016 Revisited (