To sing is to pray twice. – St. Augustine
You don’t need to be a cantor or even a choir member to know that St. Augustine was right. Proof of his statement above can be found during most weekend liturgies, especially at the beginning of Mass when we get to the Gloria.
When we speak this prayer, it’s a solid, comforting affirmation of what we Catholics believe. But when we sing this prayer, it becomes a glorious connection of our emotions to our beliefs.
“Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth.” Singing that line literally reaches down into my gut and lifts my spirits in praise of God! The music adds depth and feeling to the words and enables me to connect more fully to the spirit of the prayer.
At least that’s what I feel most of the times when singing at church, and I dearly hope that you feel the same as well.
This powerful connection created by music is at the heart of two films I recently watched.
The first is actually not a film, it’s a series of three-minute web video episodes produced by Paulist Productions titled Tyler’s Ride. Click here for the Tyler’s Ride Channel on YouTube.
The show, which debuts new episodes every Tuesday, is near the end of its first season. It chronicles the life of Tyler, a 23-year-old UCLA grad who lives with his parents, sleeps until afternoon, hangs on the beach with his buds and parties into the night. He doesn’t have a care in the world, nor direction.
In a scene from the first episode, Tyler (Grant Alan) is celebrating his birthday with his parents and his friends. But instead of giving Tyler a car, his parents give him some “tough love.” He must now live on his own and find a job, without their financial support. It’s up to Tyler to decide what he wants to do with his life.
After failing miserably at a few jobs, he sings one night at the request of Jesse, a restaurant musician, portrayed by acclaimed Christian pop singer Jeremy Camp. Music becomes one of the driving forces in Tyler’s young life.
By standing up and singing solo for the first time, Tyler realizes he can’t hide in the world of lazy afternoons and all-night parties. He’s all alone on the stage, facing the world with his own talents, for good or bad.
But success does not happen overnight. With advice from Jeremy, Tyler learns that success takes a lot of hard work and practice. Slowly, through the connections of his music, Tyler starts to put his life together with deeper thoughts about what he believes and how he should live his life. (One viewing note: after watching the short videos, read and watch the character blogs, which provide deeper looks into the characters.)
The other film is August Rush, a fanciful tale of a young orphan who hears the “music” of his birth parents in the wind, the hustle and bustle of the city, and the everyday sounds of life. “It’s all around us,” says the boy, “all you have to do is listen.”
His parents are concert cellist Lyla (Keri Russell) and Louis (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), the lead singer of an Irish rock band. They meet on a rooftop overlooking the arch in New York City’s Washington Square and succumb to romance and the “marvelous night for a moondance.” Their son Evan is born months later.
Unfortunately for the couple, circumstances and Lyla’s father prevent her and Louis from getting together. In fact, viewers are required to suspend belief in some of the plot elements in order for the storyline to move forward. Suffice it to say that eleven years go by, both parents are in different cities, they’ve abandoned their own music, and neither knows that their son is alive, waiting to be found.
Evan decides that if his parents can’t find him, he must go out and find them, using the music they gave him as a beacon. “If I show them I can play the music, they will find me,” he says to Wizard, a talented but conniving street musician portrayed by Robin Williams.
“Music is a harmonic connection to all living beings,” says the Wizard one night. He encourages Evan to play, though Wizard has other plans for the boy’s talents. Evan must make a difficult decision to keep his music going and realize his own success.
Much like my faith, music has been a constant and unifying element of my life. Looking back over the past 50 years, some of my favorite life moments occurred with the combination of my music and my faith.
I shared a love of music with my father, I passed along that love of music to our children, and I have experienced the joy of God’s presence while singing at many of Nashville churches.
“Through all the tumult and the strife, I hear its music ringing. It sounds an echo in my soul, how can I keep from singing?”
First published in the June 13, 2008 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2008 Christopher Fenoglio