I’ve been thinking about the power of music a lot lately, perhaps not surprising considering we’ve been in the rehearsal laden lead-up to today’s Christmas music at my church. But in this morning’s Winston-Salem Journal a column by Anne Adkins gave voice to some of my half-formed thoughts, so I gladly share it with you.
Music Breaks – and Heals – the Heart
The King Moravian Church Choir was giving its annual Christmas concert for my Salemtowne community two years ago when its music broke, and then healed my heart.
I was sitting beside my friend when choir director Drake Flynt invited the audience to join the choir in singing the great “Hallelujah!” chorus from Handel’s majestic oratorio, Messiah. Alzheimer’s had tightened its grip on my friend who had enriched my life as my companion for over a decade. He no longer knew me or where he was or that the English language which his once-keen mind had commanded, was no longer his friend. But that night he stood beside me and, with his soul set free by music, sang every note and word of the bass part in perfect rhythm, diction and pitch.
Drake Flynt, who has his own landscaping business, has directed the King Choir for at least 30 years. His belief in God as Creator is the heart and soul of both his music and his work as a landscaper. Recently Drake and I talked about the overwhelming desire within the human spirit that makes us want to sing.
Drake offered this explanation. “I believe God’s Spirit is a thread that runs through all of His creation, the trees and the rocks and the animals, and that we need to own this. I believe that through art we can find that place that is beyond ourselves, that is deeper than we are, that puts us in touch with that thread of life. It is very exciting when we find that thread that makes us want for more. We’re being fed in a way we don’t know what it is but we get in touch with God through the arts or through meditation or whatever way.”
Drake’s thoughts on group singing made me want to rush out and join a choir. “When you are making music, you can’t think about the beans burning or the argument you had with your neighbor. You have to look at that page, you have to think about your breathing, you’ve got text, and you just can’t hold two thoughts like that at the same time. Music gets you out of yourself and puts you in the immediate moment of what’s right there in front of you and your expression of it. When you get to the point you feel that something is great, something is joyous about this, and I believe that’s the moment when we feel connected to God.
“So we do that on the individual level, and then it is multiplied and shared as we make music together. It’s the same with art and dance or watching a child at play. I think God is alive through what’s living, God wanting to express Himself and to learn about us and to be with us is through us, and it’s only through each other that He can do that. The more we can allow to go out, more comes in.”
Drake described this connection as “the joyful feeling we have when we tap into something deeper than our personas and is at the root of our lives.” He acknowledges that this connection to what he calls “the Life Force” is not the same for everyone. “Each of us has to find our super highway to what is, and for a lot of us, arts do that.”
I asked him about those times when it becomes difficult to establish this kind of connection. He replied, “There are moments when everything falls apart and we don’t have the answers and the world does not have the answers, and we have to rely on something besides our own resources.
“If you have already built this connection, you know immediately to go to church and sing or to call your friends or to sit down by yourself and listen to a certain piece of music or to do whatever brings you to that feeling of being connected to everything. There are situations like 9/11 that are so catastrophic, there is nothing to do but to sing.”
I have been thinking about Drake’s words this holiday month of music and how often music has built my bridge from darkness into light. My friend who sang with such assurance will not be beside me this Christmas. He died earlier this year. This December I will join others singing Handel’s “Hallelujah!” and feel the music take hold of my heart and open it to God.
Anne Adkins is a former newspaper reporter and columnist for the Elkin Tribune. She is a resident of Salemtowne.