Friday, May 24, 2013

45 Years of Music in My Head

Perhaps it was the Beatles, Creedence Clearwater, Jackie DeShannon.  Even the Monkees.  Maybe the Mamas and the Papas.  Could be Beethoven.  Or that Bach guy.  Crosby, Stills and Nash.  Blood, Sweat and Tears...

BST.  You know, musical groups don't name themselves with titles like that anymore.  It was a title that may have reflected the time a bit too accurately.  In the late 1960's, lot of blood was being spilled.  In some parts of SE Asia, over 3 million mostly young Americans would sweat great drops of blood.  And there were tears.  In Asia.  In households and graveyards across America.  In the souls and wounded places of people for decades to come. 

The time was infused with music. 

Music still rings in my head.  It still rings true.  One little masterpiece movement of a classical orchestral work by Bizet will always suffuse an episode as I neared the end of college and would then go off to military service a year later. 

I cannot hear the piece of music without having all the memories come in a vivid rush.  Because the music seemed to transcend the fractious world of human events with a divine mystery of beauty.  Or a beauty of divine mystery. 

It was early June 1968. On one momentous day, I had left Omaha on a United Boeing 727--my very first airplane flight--landed in Des Moines, gone on to Chicago, thence to Newark, NJ. From Newark, I'd made my way by buses to JFK Airport. Finally by evening, I had boarded the queen of the skies, an Air France Boeing 707 Intercontinental bound for Paris. After a tired day in Paris, I would board a train for a 17-hour ride to Vienna, Austria, which was to be my home for a summer study of German language and literature and the culture, cuisine and art of Europe.
I would live with a host family, visit countless museums, concert halls and churches. I would venture behind the Iron Curtain three times, encounter the sobering reality of the grounds of a Nazi death camp only 23 years liberated, still see the damage of Allied bombing in Munich, visit with men who had been POW's in the USA and the USSR. All with the memory of a friend KIA in Kontum a few weeks before, and with the memory of JFK, MLK and RFK still in the forefront of my mind. All this while never having been east of the Mississippi River, west of the Rockies, or south of Kansas in my life.

With all that awaiting me, the big 707 flew over the North Atlantic overnight, occasionally tipping a wing slightly for a course correction. One of the tracks of recorded music that I listened to over and over on that trans-Atlantic flight included a memorable

movement from Carmen. To my dying day, the flutes and strings and harp in this work of Bizet will soar in my mind as a metaphor for the grace of flight and the grace of God in which such stunning heights of creativity and art soar over the equally stunning depths of destruction that is also within human capability and human history.

Whose loving hands could possibly span that gulf but God's? And whose mind and eternal Spirit could possibly envision a universe in which the simplest vibrations of air could so clearly embody pure joy?

We hear only the smallest portions of it, and it is more than enough. The music says more than we can ever know.

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