Friday, March 6, 2015

Music as Triune Landscape

The latest issue of Liturgy (30, no.1) is focused on “Trinity & Liturgy” as its theme. Music, as Paul Westermeyer writes in this issue is a primary means by which we enter into the relationship between the Three in One.

Westermeyer offers what he calls a roomy, a capacious, landscape created by presuppositions and implications about the Trinity found in our communal song and in other sacred music.

Here is some of what Westermeyer has to say – to whet your appetite for more.
The liturgy, the service of word and table that characterizes the Lord's Day, is replete with trinitarian references. This is true not only in the Gloria in Excelsis and the Credo, where the three persons are named, but also in hymnody that pushes to the lesser doxology, which names them. It is true by implication in the tripartite structures of the Kyrie eleison, the Agnus Dei, and the cries of “Holy” in the Sanctus. . .
 Composers have sometimes hidden trinitarian references in music that has no text and no direct connection to the liturgy. The prime example is J. S. Bach's Prelude and Fugue in E Flat major from the Clavier-Übung. . .  (the fugue called ST. ANNE because its subject begins like the hymn tune of that name). It contains what some see as multiple references to the Trinity—three flats, three themes in the Prelude, three related fugue subjects, and numbers of measures divisible by three. . .
 The room God makes “is our created time,” says [Robert] Jenson. “The opening of that room is the act of creation.”

How, then, does worship song fill our lives with a roomy landscape? What does it give to worshippers? Westermeyer makes a number of key points. Here are just the first of them:
A song to sing: With the coming of the Holy Three in word, water, bread, and wine in the liturgy, we receive a song to sing. The music comes from the song of the God we know as Three in One and One in Three. There never is silence in eternity, as Jenson indicates. The Holy Three is always singing. We get to double that song. As Luther knew, and Jenson suggests, in the capaciousness that God shares with us, music is God's gift to creation. 
 Creation and time. With the gift of creation comes time. The liturgy takes time, music takes time,  and music articulates time. Music is about “establishing an order in things, including, and particularly, the co-ordination between humanity and time.” It is no accident that the Psalms have been sung. They concern the order, or coordination, of all of humanity's life in time before God. The liturgy spins out this ordering in an inverted new life . . . as the true order. These matters bear heavily on the church musician's vocation to be considered below.
 Health and wholeness. The music of the church is about health and wholeness. Where these are impeded, the body of Christ suffers as its voice is silenced or twisted into sickness. Rape and its brutal physical or mental relatives literally silence individuals. Attacks on communities silence communities. The song is therefore not without lament. It is honest about what is broken, hurting, and bleeding. With the Psalms it cries out, groans, moans, and screams. Singers can be struck dumb. However, as Fred Gaiser says, life in its fullness “is virtually synonymous with praise,” and “laments move to praise.” 5 To be human is to sing, and to be is to sing the trinitarian doxological song around word, font, and table. 26 

Paul Westermeyer is Emeritus Professor of Church Music, Cantor, and Director of Master of Sacred Music with St. Olaf College, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota. 

Paul Westermeyer, “The Trinity and Liturgy: Music,” Liturgy 30, no. 1 (2015): 42-49.

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