Mother’s Day got me to thinking about three of my mothers: Mother Nature, Mother Church and Mother Music. Mother Nature is perturbed with me, and well she might be. I’m burning fossil fuels to get here and there, heat the house and produce a good part of the food I eat. Multiply that by the seven or so billion others doing the same, and you can see why Mother Nature is unhappy. And we haven’t even mentioned air and water pollution. Actually, I don’t think Mother Nature is all out angry; she just has her rules and consistently enforces them like a good mother should.
Then there’s Mother Church. I’ve had sort of a faithful son’s quarrel with her for some time, and it appears a lot of others have been quarreling with her, too. Actually, for a variety of often valid reasons, a good many have simply disowned this mother and gone blithely on their way. A vast majority of these live moral, meaningful, even compassionate lives without darkening the doors of holy places. Still, Mother Church continues on. Her children keep on trying to form caring communities in a difficult world. And they keep on singing.
This brings us to Mother Music. I’ve been reading a book about music theory and brain science that says music registers in many parts of the brain at the same time. Furthermore, I read, some sites where music registers in our brains are near the sites of pleasure and healing. Now that’s mothering.
One thing music does is set up patterns of expectation so that on the basis of what we’ve heard we can feel the notes that are coming. But music also delays the expected notes with unexpected notes so that we have tensions that must be resolved. And when the resolution comes, it feels like going home. That’s what jazz musicians call it. They take a tune in many directions for a time, setting up all kinds of tensions, but then someone says “Goin’ home,” and you hear the tune they started out with, and right there it feels so good the audience often applauds.
Hymns are great at meeting expectations. The last line is often like the first, and it can feel like we’ve arrived in a safe and holy place when we sing it. Yes, singing hymns can bring on a more or less unconscious sense of peace, hope and joy. But that’s true of many kinds of music. Our Mr. Music, also known as Jim Corbett, is living, breathing evidence this is so. His aptly named Love Choir sings for the sheer joy of it, and they impart joy to those who hear them. According to the book I’m reading, we’re hardwired for that.
At the performance of the Santa Rosa Symphony two Sundays ago, Alexander Toradze, a somewhat older, somewhat portly and seemingly jolly Russian fellow by way of Indiana, played the Piano Concerto No. 2 by Shostakovich. The first and third movements are lively and lilting, and they were a delight to hear. The slow, often simple, seemingly searching second movement, however, was Mother Music at her best.
Toradze appeared to feel each note deep within in his soul as he played, and so the notes lodged deep within the souls of those who listened. A hushed reverence came upon us. We knew we were in the presence of something beyond believing or disbelieving, something like peace or joy, even love. Mother music wrapped us in her generous arms and blessed us for a time. That’s what Mother Music does. All praise.
Bob Jones is the former minister of the Guerneville and Monte Rio Community Church.