I work in the world of sound and prayer – two disciplines, bound closely together. Through sound, we express our heart's desire – the most intimate of our needs, the thing we call prayer. Prayer is the most profound of all the expressions we humans can make.
Using musical sounds to embellish our prayer is even better, for it elevates our speech to something far beyond mere language – our words become acoustic imagery, even though we are in the realm of speech. It is like taking bits of glass and arranging them into a breathtaking window of color: the small pieces come together and form something far greater than what they individually are. With the help of music, our mere words take on color and emotion and disposition, organizing our thoughts into patterns of aural brilliance – again, making them far more than what they might be as just spoken word.
This is what we should be doing, we musicians who work in the sacred fields of prayer.
It was Saturday Vespers, and Michele and I had just sat down in the little woven chairs for the retreatants. And from the start, cascades of this aural brilliance, this amazing sound washed over us.
We heard the articulated d-minor triad given by the organist. And then came this wall of men's voices: robust, fully harmonized, lyrical and mature. "Dieu, viens à mon aide! " (God, come to my assistance!) The message was full of supplication and joy, at one and the same time. And those voices – they seemed to crack open the stones underneath their monastic feet and send their cry straight through the clouds. Straight up to heaven they went. And I felt like my spine was a lightning rod.
These words convey just a taste of the style of music from the Abbey of Tamié.
Sometimes it is possible to name a place, and to have a kind of liturgical music be associated with it. If I were to mention "Notre Dame," then certain sacred songs might come to mind. If "Taizé" was the topic, then those of you who know liturgical music well might just hear mantras, repeated over and over again.
The same can be said of religious communities... Every monastery has its own, unique musical and liturgical heritage. Tamié's heritage, her particular kind of song, has to be the chanted settings of the monks, done with rich, contemporary harmonies, tones that easily wrap themselves around texts (and sometimes texts that are difficult to otherwise set to music). It is like nowhere else in the world.
Another thing of great wonder at this place of retreat: it is as if the entire community is made up of tenors! I jest, but not much... The power of their voices, the way they blend, the joy with which they both devour and give over their song to God – we have been caught up in this since we arrived. What a wonderful charism this place possesses! Their very song is a witness of their love.
I wish I could offer a musical sample here. But I won't violate the encouragements of the monks to keep cameras and recorders turned off during prayer. You will just have to close your eyes and imagine... In just the same way as when I closed my eyes ... and savored.
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