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October 7, 2003
Monastic Song. Songs of Peter Abelard. I play it on my computer while I write, these days. Unless I'm playing the Trout Quintet. Or -- increasingly -- cool jazz. Imagine -- music on a computer. Perfect sound every time.

William Byrd's Mass for Three Voices with the Propers for the Nativity: I would play it while I was working in my office at St. Clement's late at night. Or early in the morning, sometimes. I quickly gave up trying to save it for the Christmas season -- I needed it all year. My computer didn't play music there -- I got a used boombox at the thrift shop. All year, even in the heat of summer, I would burn little candles in crystal holders and hear the blend of voices ascend and fall back while I wrote notes and answered calls and wrestled with the parochial report. I felt safe in the hand of God.

Beethoven's Ninth Symphony -- we sat in our living room in 1989 and listened on the radio to Leonard Bernstein conduct it in Berlin after the wall came down. They sang "freiheit" in the choral movement, instead of "freude" -- "freedom" instead of "joy." But there was great joy that day, as the snow fell outside and the fire burned inside, and we sat on the couch and looked at each other in wonder, hardly able to believe our ears. That was when we thought the end of the Cold War would bring more universal joy than it has.

Benjamin Britten's Hymn to St. Cecilia. I played it when my children were little. It is a setting of a poem of W.H. Auden -- imagine that, I used to think. Its feathery harmonies settled upon one another like doves -- "...children casual as birds, playing among the ruined languages, so small beside their large confusing words, so gay against the greater silences...". It was fresh and cool, its tenor solo glorious -- "O wear your tribulations like a rose, like a rose, like a rose...", its trebles like putti in a renaissance painting. They didn't have cds then, or even cassettes. I played it on a record player.

Sibelius' Finlandia. Debussy's Clair de Lune. Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms. My romantic period, except for the Stravinsky, who gestured me toward my more complicated future. I played them while writing undergraduate papers. A too-young single mother with no money, I did not know then if I would ever be anything but poor. And, when I listened to the music, I didn't care. There would always be music, no matter what happened.

And there always will be music. Sometimes it expresses our feelings and sometimes it helps us hide from them, when we need to. And sometimes it lifts us straight to God.
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