When’s the last time you watched a movie, TV, or video, without music? Not counting sitcoms or gameshows. Even in the silent era some type music was played. It may be to set the mood or an attempt to draw viewers into the script, to capture one’s mind, heart and memory. Adding gravity to the cinema. Music will do that. Spontaneously singing a song you can’t stop singing in the key of flat. Every year an Academy Award is presented for the best original song or musical score. Charlie Chaplain films had some music to highlight his stunts. Music can portend dire and ominous events, setting the stage for the audience. In-film music didn’t come for years after the silent era.
Some music mesmerize us, others haunt our reverie when we hear them. A few nauseates us. The American Film Institute, conducted their polling to find the “100 Greatest Songs in American Movies.” Many of those songs have been covered by countless musicians and Karaoke lounge singers, to this day. Once one hears the song, the music flows in one’s head. It works that way.
In 1939, “Over the Rainbow,” from “The Wizard of Oz.” Judy Garland and Aunty Em, Toto, and the Tin Man. That song topped the Pop charts since 1940, covered by endless musicians and vocalist. “As Time Goes By,” from “Casablanca,” in 1942. Humphrey Bogart, as Rick the bar owner who turns nice guy in the end, to save Ingrid Bergman. “White Christmas,” in “Holiday Inn,” with crooner, Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney, waiting for snow. “Moon River,” 1961, from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” That song topped the Pop Chart the same year with Andy Williams’ version, and simultaneously, DooWop great Jerry Butler, “The Iceman.” In 1967, “The Graduate,” produced the song, “Mrs. Robinson,” sung Simon & Garfunkle, who in 1960, sang street-corner harmony under the moniker of “Tom & Jerry.” What about “People,” by Barbara Streisand, from “Funny Girl,” in 1968. Or, “Gonna Fly Now,” from “Rocky,” in 1976.
Bing Crosby’s White Christmas recording, written by Irving Berlin, in 1943, is still the top selling single of all-time-nearly 60 million. 1950’s Oldies songs have a way of tripping over old memories once forgotten, or scratching a scab once healed. Nearly everything’s more idyllic in the rear view mirror of time.
Most who own a Bible, are familiar with the 23rd Psalm, likely the best known location in the Bible. Heathens know it. Psalms were the songbook of the Old Testament Jews. Most of them were written by King David of Israel. Others are attributed to Moses and Solomon. They are poetic. One could put a metronome to them and recite them in time. In many Bible versions, a musical phrase will be written above the psalm, like Psalm 61, “To the chief musician upon Neginah, A psalm of David.” It’s true of Psalm 4, 6, 54, 55, 61, 67, and 76. The original sheet music no longer exist. It was music to their ears and joy to their soul.
In the early church, in Jesus Day, the Jews described their entire Bible in three words. It was, “the Law, the Prophets and the Writings.” Jesus used these terms in Luke 24:44. Of course, the Law, was the Pentateuch, and books of History. The Prophets were the prophetic writings, both major and minor. The Writings were the Psalms and other books of poetry. To this day, many Reformed congregations sing only the Psalms as their musical worship to the Lord.
Early church fathers, like Clement of Alexandria wrote at least one formal hymn, and Ambrose of Milan, wrote several intricate hymns (Dunkle). Today, in younger congregations where contemporary Christian music reigns, older congregates are skeptical, and rely on the “old faithful music.” According to Benson (76,77), Luther promoted the entire Psalter, a volume containing Psalms and other devotional songs, to “remain in use in the morning and evening service,” and willing to let them be sung in then customary Latin. Calvin concluded he desired to not reform the church but return it to it’s original form, and sing only songs not only pure, but holy. He also avoided those Roman chants that weren’t directly based on the Psalms. The Wesleys, John and Charles, unlike the Calvinists, believed in the free will of man, and that songs that follow Scriptural underpinnings, were permissible. They hoped to shake-up the sleepy Church of England.
Often quoted 17th century English poet/playwrite, William Congreve, “Musick has Charms to sooth the savage Breast, To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.” Many agree that music is soothing. Some would counter, “It depends on the kind and character of the music.” David’s musical therapy appeared to refresh King Saul’s affliction in I Samuel 16:14-23. Whatever one believes concerning the “evil, distressing spirit,” this much is clear: the music had the power to permit David’s music to dispel that spirit and depart from Saul. Chinese philosopher Confucius wrote, “If one should desire to know whether a kingdom is well governed, if its morals are good or bad, the quality of its music will furnish the answer.” What does that say about America’s musical palate? Plato understood music’s stranglehold in his time, saying, “Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes the law.”
Idioms like “Is their a song in your heart” symbolically ask questions like, “Is there joy in your life?” “Are things well with your soul?” “What gives you meaning when all else appears chaotic or out-of-control?” “What gives lilt to your step everyday?” “What makes your heart beat faster?” The answers are as unique as the individuals. The late Dick Clark, was a cultural icon, best known for hosting American Bandstand, from 1956 to 1989. Music was his life. Nearly everything he touched resonated music. According to Motown founder Berry Gordy, “He (Clark) was a major force in changing pop culture and ultimately influencing integration.” Many blacks debuted their song on American Bandstand.
For we commoners, our song may come at another time, when life is out of focus, and no longer makes sense, as it unravels before our eyes. For some, that song came at a time when God answered one’s plea, though one still had to suffer through sleepless nights, and in the face of momentary despair, one needed a song in the night. In those disconcerting moments, when no one else is around, one’s confronted with stark reality that our society is troubled, at risk, by internal and external threats, the kind that haunt our reverie. It’s hard to shake. Our quotidian routine is insufficient to quell this troubling monologue, as the contour of our existence is subject to haunting changes, in the midst of a constant murmur, that drones a message of disquieting times ahead.
In Psalm 42, it reveals, the writer, flesh and blood as we, trusted God’s deliverance though he had to endure suffering at the hands of his enemies, who mocked him, “Where is your God?” Therefore, a quixotic knee jerk response that, “All is well,” leaves one vulnerable, while donning ourselves in a razor thin veneer of a false sense of security, is futile. It’s understandable in chaotic times to lack the wisdom to know what one needs, how much, how often, or when. That’s His realm.
Sadly, when one’s feeling self-sufficient, cavalier, and at ease, one doesn’t hunger and thirst for God. However, when one is suffering, broken in spirit and fatigued, actually sensing visceral pain, longing for God’s presence, peace and comfort. The Psalmist didn’t long just for God’s word, but agonizes for an encounter with God Himself. The Psalmist now hungered for another chance to sense the goodness of God in the daytime, yet sang songs as darkness enveloped him at the night.
What is it about night-time and darkness? Why is it when you’re ill, you feel worse at night? Fevers spike at night. Sorrow’s edgier. Loneliness is magnified. Why? Most answers are inconsolable, like “There’s less cortisol in your blood, or circadian rhythm.” Songs in the night get us through till daybreak, when sunlight dispels the entangling darkness. Psalm 30:5 reminds us, “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.”
God promises His Song in Psalm 42. There’s no expiration date on His promises. Hide it in your heart. Considering the times, you’ll need it. There are genuine reasons to toss and turn at night. Denial is a poor elixir to induce sleep. What do you think?
Mike Pyatt’s a Natrona County resident. His email’s email@example.com