Praying with Music: introductory blog for the Beethoven weekend at Ammerdown, 19th-21st July 2013.
Beethoven’s three great spiritual testaments, Missa Solemnis, Fidelio and the Choral Symphony, speak of the composer’s great struggles towards spiritual freedom, and so become for us an accompaniment to our own struggles towards freedom. They have the power to en-courage: that is, because Beethoven explores our spiritual journey and inner struggles with such depth and power, by meditating deeply on these works we are given new energy and hope for our continuing journey, through the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, He who gives us courage and hope.
This is the point of these Praying with Music weekends: so often music is no more than a background to our lives, listened to in passing as we rush from one appointment to another, just as our prayer life is sometimes only the briefest breath towards God before we rush off to something else. Instead, this weekend aims to give us space to breathe in what God is longing to say to us through these works: this is time for God, praying through great music.
While the points raised about the three works are sometimes further illustrated by reference to other works, the focus remains on a journey undertaken with these three pillars of the Beethovenian heart and spirit, in order for participants to have a sense of a liberating and enriching journey and to be left with new insights into the journey ahead, inspired with new hope and courage by the music. Friday evening and Saturday morning will concentrate on each movement of the Missa; Saturday late afternoon and evening on Fidelio (with an optional showing of a DVD performance after lunch); Sunday morning will begin with a short “pilgrimage service” particularly using the Choral Fantasy, while the weekend will end with the portrait of a human soul that is the Choral Symphony.
The timetable has evolved so that we will pray through three keys works, so that it won’t be a nebulous stroll using various short extracts but will consist of full movements proceeded by short scripture readings and meditations on the inner meanings of these movements, as well as introductory talks on the works as a whole.
I am a professional writer and an amateur musician: this means I write as one who has helped “create” the music in live performance (at one concert as a singer, at another as a double bass player in an orchestra). At the same time, it means that I approach the music through the medium of the living, singing language of a praying poet. It may seem contradictory to try and express the wordlessness of music through words, but the words I use are a listening, one way of listening; are my own singing emerging from the music, that I hope will set off your own singing, your own responses to this ecstatic, challenging music, so that you leave with a deepened and joyful sense of how God can reach into your own life through music.
You may wish to make your own preparations for the weekend through spending time with the music yourself in advance, and you will certainly wish to spend time preparing the heart through prayer, asking God through the Holy Spirit to reveal new and liberating insights through this music. The weekend comes at a significant time during the Church’s Year, those weeks after Pentecost/Trinity which for me are about praying about our relationship with the Holy Spirit. I always think of these weeks of Ordinary Time as extraordinary time, as a kind of extended preparation for Advent, which is the next significant change of ecclesial Season.
One final point: remember that the wonderful journey Beethoven sets off in us does not end with the final session, that nothing will be final and complete by the time your depart Ammerdown; rather, it will be the beginning of a journey, and that God will sometimes only reveal what He wants to reveal much later, in His own time (God’s timing always comes from his deep knowledge of the unique needs of each individual). While I myself do not offer spiritual direction or counselling, you may wish to note down new insights as you discover them for later discussion outside Ammerdown, or write journal entries or begin your own Letter to Jesus during the weekend, where you can say frankly and without pretending, as if to an utterly trusted friend, what the music gives to your heart. My prayer is that Beethoven’s gift blesses and enriches you.
EUAN TAIT, Chepstow, Monmouthshire, 4.7.13