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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Gospel Fire 3: Loosening the Grip

by Bradly Baird (bio)

Oscar Hammerstein II - The man who really believed that there is a "bright golden haze on the meadow."

As I mentioned in Gospel Fire 1, I am currently suffering from a severe case of spiritual blues and don't have any idea how to shake it off. Anytime I do anything spiritually-related, I feel overwhelmed by a total sense of exhaustion and a kind of numbness. In Gospel Fire 2, I described a moment of reassurance in my heart that - despite the mass of pain I was then feeling - this whole spiritual frustration would eventually pass. This stirring came because of an encounter with specific images of the Savior and a deeply spiritual piece of music.

About a week after I received this assurance, I returned from work on a Friday evening and sat down to contemplate my situation. As I was sitting there, I felt a gentle prompting to spend the entire weekend listening to music, gentle music that would soothe my soul and heal my wound. I was surprised by this; but, as I thought about it, I realized that in spending time with beauty and gentleness, I would become prepared to take the next steps (and be open enough to accept the Lord's will for my next phase of growth).

I turned first to one of my favorite song writers, Adam Guettel, whose musical instincts are always very gentle and who once said "that writing for character and telling stories through music was something that ... allowed me to express love." I listened to Statues and Stories, The Beauty Is, Dividing Day, Fable, and Say It Somehow. They are all beautiful, gentle, and express the love of a mother and daughter.

I then moved on to Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers, and listened to some of their most optimistic songs, including The Sound of Music, Climb Every Mountain, Cockeyed Optimist, This Nearly Was Mine, Twin Soliloquies, Younger Than Springtime, and My Girl Back Home. Their work has a buoyancy and such a wonderfully calm spirit about it, that I always feel such a sense of hope about humanity and the world.

I then felt inspired to inject a bit of humor into the proceedings and turned to the music of Adam Gwon, an up-and-coming song writer. Two of his songs - One by One by One and Don't Wanna Be Here make me laugh out loud and express genuine human feeling about finding one's place in the world.

After I finished with the humor, I moved into the world of concert music and listened to some amazingly beautiful and inspiring music, including: Sibelius - Symphony No. 4; Sibelius - Symphony No. 5; Elgar - Enigma Variations; Corigliano - Voyage for Flute and String Orchestra; Corigliano - Elegy for Orchestra; Mahler - Symphony No. 5; Mahler - Symphony No. 4 (Chamber Version); Chevaliers Du Sangreal - Track from The Davinci Code; Magnus Lindberg - Violin Concerto; Peter Schickele - Quintet for Piano and Strings; Vincent Persichetti - Symphony No. 3. All of this helped alot; but, just wasn't enough. I didn't feel like I understood what to do next and I didn't feel like I was done with the music.

Out of everything I listened to up to that point, the songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein stayed with me more than anything else. Their optimism and joyful expressions of life swirled around in front of me like a vision and I felt like I needed to hear more. A few days later, I gathered up every recording of their shows that I could find in my collection, and resolved to listen to each one from beginning to end (it turns out that apart from State Fair and Me and Juliet, I own recordings of all their other shows).

I listened  to Pipe Dream, Flower Drum Song, Cinderella, The Sound of Music, South Pacific, Oklahoma, The King and I, Allegro, and Carousel from beginning to end. The effect upon my soul was remarkable. The presence of such optimism, joy, discovery, and human connection penetrated my heart, and the weight that dragged me down began to drift away.

I was moved - nearly - to tears by it all and then, while listening to one of the most optimistic and joyful moments on The Sound of Music soundtrack, the Captain Von Trapp character sings: "I go to the hills when my heart is lonely. I know I will hear what I heard before. My heart will be blessed with the sound of music. And I'll sing once more." In that moment, everything I was struggling with became clear and I knew immediately what I had to do next to lift myself out of the doldrums.

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