-Pastor Melissa Fain-
This is a continuing Lenten exploration of non-religious artists' take on religion.
This is how I’ve suggested one engages these meditations.
For this art, I’d like to ask you to listen to the song without seeing the imagery. Press play, and don’t watch. Let the music take you in. When you come back to it after reading what I’ve written, watch it.
About the Artist:
Omar Thomas (1984-) Born in Brooklynn, New York to Guyanese parents, he moved to Boston in 2006 to earn his Masters in Jazz Composition. He won the ASCAP Young Jazz Composers award in 2008. He is hailed for his ability to capture emotional intent in his work.
About the Art:
Thomas was commissioned by the JMU Wind Symphony to create a memorial piece in remembrance of the 9 lives lost during the 2015 Charleston AME Church shooting.
The piece is angry, sad, confused, and ultimately hopeful. It uses the Black National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing, as it’s muse.
My undergraduate degree is a BA in Music. Music was my balm when my personal world was a minefield. I sang and played my soul out. That’s why it might surprise you to know that it is extremely difficult to get a song to bring me to tears. I’ve been sad while singing. I’ve cried while singing “Amazing Grace” at a funeral. A few tears slipped while I sang “Let there be Peace on Earth” the Sunday after 9/11. Those were less the songs, and more what was happening for those songs to be played.
Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings rips me apart every time. It really doesn’t matter what mood I’m in, or how many times I’ve heard it. The edges of my eyes get misty. I feel it.
Now there’s a second. “Of Our New Day Begun” is a mourning wail. It is the musical version of a Lament if I’ve ever heard it. More than that, if you are anywhere in the mourning process, this song sings, and sounds to your specific place in that journey.
Maybe it has just begun, and in that case, this song is raw. It plays your nerves like violin strings.
Maybe you have finally begun the sacrificial journey, willing to bring what can no longer be before God. In that case, it screams. It is an angry rebuke of a broken creation.
Maybe you have found the light after brokenness. You are in the midst of thanksgiving. In that case, it brings out the happy tears. It’s a joyous celebration that something new has been created, while still lamenting what can never be again.
This is, in a very real sense, a Lenten song.
This is, in a very real sense, a modern Psalm.
This is, in a very real sense, what I was talking about with Dr. Pemberton, when I said not all speech uses actual words, or if it does, it’s more about what those words mean, not what they are actually saying.
It’s times like this I begin to understand why I felt called to get my dinkey music degree (because a BA in music is a BA in basket weaving without an education focus or something to back it up) was vital to my call as a minister. Seminarians are inundated with words. Ministers study with language. Meanwhile, my first conversations with God lacked vocabulary. Now I’m trying to show you, and I see how difficult it can be to see communication beyond words if you’ve never thought beyond them.
Learned back when I was tied to the lyrics of someone else’s song, that the notes sing too. True, they too were someone else’s notes, but they said more than the words.
“Of Our New Day Begun” says more than words too. We need only listen.
How does this piece preach the Word of God to the people of God?