Listening with Hope

Every now and then, there’s a concert that sticks in your head. As a lifelong Houstonian, the bulk of my memories were made downtown in Jones Hall—

—Sitting in Jones Hall two years ago during the Houston Symphony performance of Haydn’s Die Schopfung (Creation), I was again completely and utterly blown away by the fact that we were all making such a big deal out of what are simply sounds. The audience gave up other things to do with their afternoon (and a fair bit of money!), engineers and donors built an incredible hall, and a hundred professional musicians dedicated their lives to what happened in that hall that day. Why do we care so much? There’s nothing to even see or feel or taste or do!

What a good lesson in Beauty this is! I wish all my students— even all the world— could catch a glimpse of this truth. There is something undoubtedly REAL and important about music, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with the “useful.” Of course, you’ll hear the benefits of a musical education all over— brain connections, motor skills, observation— but perhaps the biggest benefit is something less easily nailed down.

It’s as though we all (at least those of us in the concert hall that day) need music, somehow have this innate longing to hear. And not just to hear, but to listen and grow and be challenged and be consoled by this music.

And hearing is an important part of what’s going on, it turns out.

I try to instill in each of my students a love of sharing music with others, because others need the chance to hear. As we experience music with all its ups and downs and denials and fulfillments, listening becomes more active. Listening becomes something that makes us better. As the great master Handel is rumored to have said: “I do not wish to simply entertain you, but to make you better!” We feel a deep consolation, an involvement in the story of the music that changes us.

So as I sat there, one of a thousand in Jones Hall, I felt my part most keenly. While the musicians sang of the days of the world’s beginning, somehow they were at once acknowledging the Beauty of Creation, and even doing a little creation of their own. The music swept us all along in time, filling every little hole, every person with love and joy. As the choir and orchestra sang the final numbers of Act I, it was as if the angels and all creation became a part of the concert hall. God’s Word’s power echoing down time and still creating, still praising, still hoping with a Great Big Hope that the glory of God is the greatest Truth and Beauty out there.

I could hardly sit still. It’s just that exciting. Especially when they sang the refrain: “Und eine neue Welt Entspringt auf Gottes Wort.” (“And a New World springs up from God’s Word”) Take a listen yourself and catch the hope:

And while you’re at it, here’s one of my favorite soprano voices singing the aria “With verdure clad” (in English!). In this standard da capo aria, listen all the way through to hear a repeat of the first section, but this time, clad in even more verdure and decoration as the world blossoms alive in true early Classical style!


Featured Art – A Concert (1751) by Giovanni Paolo Panini