Archive

Charles Hulin IV

2018 Lasker Summer Music Festival

 

Tuesday, July 31 at 4:00 P.M.

Opening Chapel Service – “Roots”

Keynote Speaker: Charles Hulin

and music by Festival Musicians

 

Tuesday, July 31 at 7:30 P.M.

Tenor Jeff Prillaman and Pianist Charles Hulin

 

Wednesday, August 1 at 7:30 P.M.

Soprano Lisa Lowry and Violinist Wesley Mason

 

Thursday, August 2 at 7:30 P.M.

Pianist Ariel Dechosa and Festival Musicians

 

All events take place at Lasker Baptist Church

and are free and open to the public.

For more information, please call 863-667-6974.

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Lloyd and Charles.jpg

Hospitality

Charles J. Hulin IV

July 30, 2017

 

Lloyd and I thought of each other as brothers and we leaned on each other like family. I knew Lloyd was very special, but it didn’t occur to me that our brotherhood was anything more than us being best friends over the years until Lloyd passed on and I heard person after person after person saying he was a brother to them too. Then I realized Lloyd had a gift of brothering. Lloyd could and did stay with you through and beyond the good and the bad and shared what he had all along the way. For all his colorfulness and contrariness, Lloyd was extraordinarily hospitable.

So this morning, I hope to set the tone for our time in Lasker, and maybe the tone for our year, by considering hospitality, and I would like to do so by meditating on a famous text associated with that very hospitable saint, St. Brigit.

According to legend, Brigit’s extension of herself in hospitality reached as far as time-traveling back to the first century to be the nurse of Jesus.

This text, associated with St. Brigit, is sometimes called the “Celtic Rune of Hospitality,” and it goes like this:

(A rune, by the way, is a type of poem.)

 

I saw a stranger today

I put food for this stranger in the eating place

And drink in the drinking place

And music in the listening place.

In the holy name of the Trinity,

This stranger blessed my self and my family.

And the lark said as it warbled

Often, often, often

Goes Christ in the stranger’s guise.

O, oft and oft and oft

Goes Christ in the stranger’s guise

 

Introductory observations

This rune reminds us, as the scriptures tell us, that in taking care of others, we are taking care of Jesus. And in the reference to the lark, we can feel the Celtic sense of the closeness of spirit and nature.

But I want to focus on some implications of the first part of the rune in which we hear of strangers and food and drink and music.

A stranger is a person who is unknown to us but could become known.

Sometimes, having lost track of who and how we really are, we become unknown to our selves. At such times, we need hosting. Maybe even our own hosting.

Food and drink sustain our bodies and our minds. And there is beauty and meaning in that music in the listening place. Beauty and meaning feed our souls

We don’t want ourselves, or those who come close to us, to go hungry or to be thirsty or to lack beauty and meaning. So our hosting is a caring sharing of time. It is a doing of life with an eye to providing what is needed.

 

Balance

Putting food in the eating place, drink in the drinking place, and music in the listening place suggests getting the right things in the right arrangement, and maybe even in the right amount at the right time. Doing that requires sensitivity in the short term and patience in the long term. But it is well worth the effort as such balance amounts to hospitality to our souls.

We all know from experience that this balance doesn’t look the same for everyone, and the words of others about the best balance can obscure our awareness of the unique balance we need. So in hosting our selves and others, we need to create space in which genuine discoveries about these matters can be made.

I would like to share a simple exercise based on this rune of hospitality. It’s an exercise that helps us be more mindful and grateful, an exercise that helps us to have and to do more fully  whatever we have and do. It invites a sense of spaciousness.

And here’s the exercise. At any moment, we can tell ourselves what we’re putting in what place.

For example, as I walk from my parking space to the building where I teach, I might narrate my experience to myself.

“I’m putting walking in the dewy grass in the walking in the dewy grass place.”

“I’m putting listening to the birds in the listening to the birds place.”

“I’m putting seeing the smooth and glassy lake in the seeing the smooth and glassy lake place.”

“I’m putting praying for my friends in the praying for my friends place.”

We might expand this practice even to the point of becoming companions to our more negative experiences. There are times when it is good for me to say, “I am putting anxiety in the anxiety place.” Naming it helps me contain it. It gives me a little distance from it and it returns some sense of my autonomy as I face it.

 

Music

“music in the listening place”

With these words, the ancient poet acknowledged that music is a part of hospitality.

This putting music in the listening place is about having and sharing the musical experience. It is music performed and heard, not music considered and discussed. Of course considering and discussing can be good activities, but the rune references time spent with the sounds and time spent with each other that is mediated by the sounds.

The mediating quality of music makes it like the warmth around a hearth where weary travelers are hosted. In that warmth, stories are told. Feelings are felt more fully. Experiences are processed. And our common humanity is honored. There is acceptance and togetherness, gentleness and singing.

As we perform, we tend such a hearth. We host our listeners as we tell them stories. And our story-telling medium has the capability of making those stories feel like they are happening right here and now at the same time that it keeps our listeners safe from the danger of those stories. And with our sounds we are deeply saying, “We’re on the same journey. Your experiences are mine. I am with you.”

It is a ritual of communing. And that might remind us of the ritual, or the ordinance, or the sacrament of communion in which the bread, the Body of the Christ, is called “the Host.” Perhaps we think of it as the host because Jesus is on the same journey and has our experiences and is with us. But when used to reference the bread of communion, the word “host” also hearkens back to the Latin “hostias” meaning sacrifice. And in truest hosting, we extend ourselves and go together through and beyond the good and bad of life, sharing what we have all along the way.

 

A blessing (to be repeated three times slowly for meditation’s sake)

As Christ IS  for us

May we BECOME  musically

As we make music TO  others

by Charles Hulin IVSacred Time, December 2014

At the age of forty-two (in the summer of 2014), I had the great privilege of spending a week in the abbey on the island of Iona along with Kathy and an inspiring gathering of Christians from around the United Kingdom, Europe, and the United States. I mention my age because I have reached the point at which one starts to think he or she is probably about halfway done with life on this earth assuming nothing major goes wrong. In addition, it felt very right to be on Iona at age forty-two and to worship there on Pentecost since, according to legend, St. Columba started his new life on the island at age forty-two on Pentecost.

The details of each of my Iona days are still quite vivid in my mind. The experiences of pilgrimage, of following a quasi-monastic schedule, and of living in communion with other believers in that historically spiritual environment contributed some important things to who I am now but they showed me much more about who and how I can be.

Each day on the island included good fellowship around meals followed by everyone cleaning up the refectory. Then we moved on to worship involving prayers for the needs of the world. Next came assigned chores followed by study or other enriching activities. Afternoons involved hikes and boat trips while evenings provided time for reflection, more worship, and the occasional cèilidh.

The modest meals and moments of leisure were so good because of the responsible way in which resources like time and energy were being used. We knew we were each having only our share – our daily bread – and we partook with real thanks knowing that others were being provided for, too. I believe we all fell in love with this way of living life together.

I think of all this in Christmastide as we have just made it through the season during which it has become a cliché to complain of the busy-ness that threatens priorities such as time alone with God and adds stress to maintaining our usual routines. While we might need to be intentional in counteracting those dangers, I wonder if we would do even better to consider what our December struggles tell us about how we live the rest of the year.

Perhaps we need to make enough room in our year-round schedule so that we can readily receive the enhanced schedule of worship, festivities, and involvement with others when the holiday season arrives.

My own small steps in this direction have shown me that I only begin to see others and their needs when I follow a more balanced and responsible schedule. I can put some real energy into caring for those around me when I am not super-booked or obsessing about my own work

For this reason, many of us might need to say “no” more frequently in the new year:

no to over-scheduling . . .

no to so many up times that we have no down times . . .

no to “opportunities” that don’t allow us to engage in ministry on a regular basis . . .

Taking such steps is more than a change in personal life-style. It is a veritable revolution. To seek balance between a healthy amount of work and other activities – to seek the balance that gives propelling joy in all sorts of activities – will most likely put us in conflict with the prevailing culture.

Admittedly, some of us simply cannot afford to limit the number of gigs we say ”yes” to. Until we start having realistic conversations about our actual needs, the situation is unlikely to improve.

A natural starting point for such conversations might be the very specific thing we artists absolutely know from experience: inspiration and productivity come in waves. Completely unlike the dynamics of a mechanical assembly line, there is an ebb and flow to endeavors that move human beings forward. This fact sets some limits on us which we discover when we try to do too much too fast and our work suffers, our voice diminishes, and our spirits wither.

Even deeper than this starting point for discussion is our own confusion about who we are. I think many of us live through a number of unfulfilling years because we are so focused on who we think we are in the present or on how we will arrive in the future. As much as they feel like it, our self-image and our fantasies are not who we are. Instead, what we do as we go about each day – how we spend our time – this determines a great deal about who we really are in life. It is by our loving actions and our demonstration of God’s creative image that our families and communities come to know us, and our world’s flourishing depends on those actions and that divine stamp.

In recognizing that, to some extent, we are what we do, we realize our lack of wholeness and we feel our need for forgiveness. From that place of humility we can begin to live our lives as opposed to being consumed by them. We can truly have our moments so that we might begin to give them to Jesus.

As we do less of the things the culture says are important, and as we start to see the real choices that lie before us, we can seek discernment regarding how to use the time we have. We would do well to pray for a strong hand to guide us in the way of balance.

In my experience, balance makes everything work better. Many of us were taught that practice time never ends but we perform better when practice is clearly contained and complemented by other activities. Indeed, a balanced life, not unlike a good recipe, involves the right ingredients in the right amounts. So often, we try to fit too much into a day. Ongoing experimentation is required to determine the right mix.

What is more, our tastes change over the years. At different stages in our lives and careers, we need to use the available time differently. At some points, things should be arranged so that we can single-mindedly and whole-heartedly dedicate ourselves to our art. In other periods, we need to refocus our dedication to include meetings with colleagues or commitments to daily communicating with those who depend on us.

Balance is not a goal to be achieved once and for all. We actually need a balanced diet, not just one good meal and we need to keep turning to God, not just to repent on one occasion. Similarly, we need to engage in a lifestyle of balance so that we might more fully commit our works to the Lord. Nothing less than our spiritual growth, physical survival, and relationships with others are at stake.

I believe we stagnate and become frustrated because, in addition to being taught to obsess about our craft, many of us have also developed a big appetite for being entertained. We rush from a taxing rehearsal right into some stimulating activity that relieves us, in a way, but fails to refresh us. In other words, we have too many off times that should be down times. While we have a sense of self-mastery in the practice room, we seldom pause to be present and to reflect.

When we begin to have those down times, and when we make room in our lives to enjoy a lack of intensity so we can connect with others, we are likely to become more aware of our moods and our immaturity. If we examine these, we might just discover the issues that hold us back. If we labor together with God in these areas, we can become more able to create a place of non-competitive, calm caring around us. As we develop the ability to provide room for just being, we can start to invite others into an expansion of balance in their own lives. That will be a blessing and a birth of change in our culture.

May we grow in heavenly wisdom so that we can bring peace to others.

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. 17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.           James 3:13-18

by Charles J. Hulin IV, October 2008

The moment of performance is a moment of autonomy. The performer is free and powerful. The performer cannot be silenced or contradicted in that moment. The performer is in control and knows his or her talents can change the world.

That moment of autonomy can amplify the voice of the otherwise powerless. It can provide real leverage against the oppressive powers that be. Thus, freedom of expression is of utmost importance in any society that truly values the individual.

The concept of the individual triumphs in the moment of performance.

But the individual is not alone in performance. Present in that moment of autonomy are mentors, tradition, human needs, and a captive audience. An ever-expanding community is linked to the moment of performance making it an act of faith.

Two artistic paths diverge at the moment of performance. One path seems to be the expression of power. Critiques of those whose work amounts to playing the loudest and fastest abound. Those with more depth or less physical ability might seek to bind their audiences as with a spell through manufactured emotion and drama. (I condemn myself here.) Either way, we give the audience an experience of power, but not necessarily a powerful experience. The freedom of the audience is compromised. The listeners are commanded to merge with the event, to cede their autonomy to the power of another. The performer has asked to be worshiped, not respected.

The other path is the path of beauty.

Beauty cooperates. Power competes.

Beauty invites participation. Power demands submission.

Beauty seeks to measure up to the laws of nature. Power asserts the self.

Beauty is absolute. Power is relative.

Beauty relates to the musicality of others.

Power tempts us to ignore musical principles.

Beauty exists in the community of composer, performer, and audience.

Power expresses the dominance of the performer.

Those calling for beauty speak to all sides in a conflict.

Those in power hear opposition in voices other than their own.

This litany makes it clear that what I mean by “beauty” includes the usual ideals of aesthetics and also converges with a paradigm that reaches far beyond the realm of art.

Traditionally, beauty has been considered a matter of proportion, of harmonious relation. On a much grander scale than my piano recital, proportion and harmonious relation exist as justice – the justice of all being cared for.

The word “shalom” used by Jews of the past and present, including Jesus, is the ultimate expression of this beauty. Shalom connotes completeness, safety, welfare, peace, and friendship with humanity and God.

We know that when the justice of all-being-cared-for falls by the wayside, war develops. Likewise, our power-focused performances might be indicative of the spirit of hostility that imbalances human endeavor at every level.

Shalom speaks to the meaning and use of power from the highest ranks of world government to our personal day-to-day ethical choices about the use of our own talents in performing and teaching.

Having power can tempt us to be unreasonable and to forget what it was like to serve or to have no power. Beauty, on the other hand, connects us with all the best parts of reality.

Perhaps my description of these two paths has been a little jarring. The path of power might seem integral to certain ways of pursuing music that are important to you. Maybe this definition of justice seems politically out-of-sync. Or, if you are like me, you have a long-term intermittent conflict with yourself about how to live and how to perform.

While my conflict resurfaces over the years, my belief in the importance of freedom, balance, and service remains the same. I have already addressed issues of freedom and balance. I believe service is the way to travel the better path.

Servants are really the ones who bring beauty into the world. Servants keep our surroundings clean and orderly, build warm homes, prepare good food, ease the woes of the infirm and their loved ones, and help us to see beauty in the world.

We are called to be servants, but we secretly worship leaders.

We overlook the indispensable function of service in society.

We seldom celebrate servants as the most important models that they are.

When we do serve, we do so as a tricky way of becoming leaders.

Truly seeking to serve moves the focus from our power to God’s power. Perhaps this is why it is of utmost importance that we learn to serve.

Focusing on God’s power should remind us that while we are each individuals, we stand side-by-side.

IMG_1348In his book In the Name of Jesus, Henri Nouwen writes, “Somehow we have come to believe that good leadership requires a safe distance from those we are called to lead. Medicine, psychiatry, and social work all offer us models in which ‘service’ takes place in a one-way direction. Someone serves, someone else is being served, and be sure not to mix up the roles! But how can we lay down our lives for those with whom we are not even allowed to enter into a deep personal relationship? Laying down your life means making your own faith and doubt, hope and despair, joy and sadness, courage and fear available to others as ways of getting in touch with the Lord of Life.”

Service described in this way is not a decision of an individual but a process much bigger than ourselves that draws us into community. Service is mutual. Forgetting this gives rise to resentment. Then much forgiveness is required to preserve the community.

Service that is a mutual, honest, side-by-side process bigger than ourselves illuminates love and obscures relationships built on power. In Nouwen’s final book, Adam, he explains what he learned from a handicapped young man named Adam who became Christ to him: “Adam clearly challenged us to trust that compassion, not competition, is the way to fulfill our human vocation.”

The Kingdom of God transforms the world at every level by those who lovingly create beauty through service. Our world is so power-focused that to be part of that transformation we need to be intentional in our search for beauty and vigilant in our commitment to service.

I invite you and myself to regularly ask “What was beautiful in this day?” That mindset will clarify our path. We will be blessed with the return of genuine musical feelings and we will find ourselves freed to focus on authentic musical values.

Then we must untiringly examine and reexamine the way we see our lives and work, the way we organize ourselves, and the way we achieve our goals so as to express ever truer ways of serving.

 

The Cottons

by Dr. Rickey Cotton

As I begin my address, let me first say how glad, honored, and excited I am to be here. Although this is my first time here at the festival, let me also say that I don’t feel I speak as an outsider—no, I feel already joined to and one with you and what you are doing and experiencing in this Festival and have been for its seventeen year history—but still I do come with a new or fresh perspective.

My title is “Sound and Silence—God and Creative Expression.” So what I am wanting to investigate first and foremost is God and how we relate to God—then to consider creative expression and its relation to God. God first in actuality, not merely in words or not even emotion.

Certainly we will enjoy the gifts of God in the days of the Festival, but I want us to first focus on the Giver, and not his gifts. And I want us to review together what God has done, is doing, and wants to do in and through the Festival.

My core scripture is Psalm 37:7, which says, “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him.” And also Psalm 46:10–“Be still, and know that I am God.” Silence is key for this kind of knowledge.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is relevant here. Wasn’t the music we heard by him this evening fantastic? But this great musician knew about silence. He said, “Silence is very important. The silence between the notes is as important as the notes themselves” (from The Life and Times of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart). We will consider Mozart a bit more later in this message.

I also want to quote Charles Hulin, a little now and then more later.  In preparing for this year’s festival, in his online blog Charles reflected on “Silence,” and he wrote about the consciousness that comes from giving ourselves to God in silence. He said, “With such a consciousness, we can learn how to sing a song of praise in a strange land, in a land where love has been rejected. We can learn to lead life as a meditation….”

This is a profound and important insight for those of us who love God, who love truth, beauty, and goodness, all of which come from God. We are indeed strangers here, an alternative culture, strangers in a strange land. So we must live our lives and practice our art in close communion with God.

So what I am first concerned in this message with is our relationship with God and only then with the arts, with music—and because Anna and I have been included this year—with words, with poetry.

I am first interested in what Jesus called the greatest commandment:  “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matt. 22:36-38). So often we just read through the first commandment, or read it too fast, and rush on to the second commandment about loving our neighbor.

But tonight let’s slow down and focus on the first commandment of Jesus. Jesus called it the greatest commandment. And this is what it commands, that we love the Lord our God with all our hearts and with all our souls and with all our minds. Again: with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our minds. That’s quite a challenge. To do it skillfully, effectively, we will need to slow down and recognize that we have hearts, souls, and minds. We will need to engage them fully and consciously practice integrating them and loving God completely with them. It is not just a matter of nice words or sweet intentions. It takes practice.

As I move into the heart of my message, let me mention John Cage. In our time, you can’t talk about music and silence with acknowledging John Cage. He is one of the most famous and most controversial composers of our time, and I suppose his composition “4 min. 33 sec.” engaging silence may be his most famous work. And there is his famous collection of essays, the title of which is Silence.

But we will engage Cage more fully Saturday night. Tonight I am doing something different than Cage. I’m emphasizing experiencing the presence of God in the silence.

But there is a good line from Cage I want to use. Cage said, “The act of listening is in fact an act of composing.” I like that. So tonight as we listen together to my words, let us remember that we are composing together, and let us compose together, in community, what God wants us to hear, let us together sense what and how God wants us to be.

Let’s turn our attention to the Festival Charter, which Anna read a few minutes ago. Seventeen years ago the four founders of this festival, including Charles and Kathy, signed a charter for establishing its foundational values. Here are three key statements from that charter.

First, “Lasker Summer Music Festival is a festival in which the spiritual nature of music is recognized.” That’s what we are doing now: we are exploring and recognizing God’s presence and action in music and in this music festival.

Second, “The fundamental premise of the Festival is that the effectiveness of music is ultimately from God and for God.” Yes, God is first, God is the source, and God is our purpose for being here.

And third, “By participating in the Festival, musicians are retreating into a type of Christian and musical fellowship that should re-ignite the fires of their inspiration, re-set their artistic compasses, and replenish their stores of enthusiasm.” I want to highlight the word “retreat” in that statement. This is key. To be what God wants us to be, we must “retreat,” that is, we must pull back from the world and regularly be with God in intimacy, depth, and yieldedness. And we must have times like this with one another. We do this for renewal, rebirth. Then we can enter the world as genuine expressions of God.

From the charter, let me turn to Charles’s own 2011 Keynote sermon, three years ago. He spoke on “Inspiration.” Inspiration—God breathed. We have to be present and open in responding to God’s breath, to his inspiration.

Let me just read a few of his comments. First he said, “At the opening of each year’s festival, I always stress that I view this as a sacred time devoted to the integration of our calling as musicians and our walk of faith.”

He also said, “And of course, creativity is not limited to the activities of people working in the arts. Preparing a meal, planting a garden, caring for others through the way we live and work – these are manifestations of the creativity God placed within us.” It’s vital that we understand that all of us here are artists, are creators. All of us are involved in the work of beauty, truth, and goodness. To be created in the image of a creative God means that we are creative, all of us.

Charles asked a question: “Are there steps we can take to become more alert to the possibility of inspiration in our own lives? Are there ways of living and looking at things that make us more fit as vessels through which inspiration can flow into the lives of others?”

His answer was yes. He said, “We can begin by diligently opening ourselves to the possibility of inspiration. This will require faith and hope that there is more to life than our ordinary way of living which fails to lift us to our great human potential. We must strive to recognize the divine breath…. To do so, we need to position ourselves in places of inspiration….”

He went on to say, “For inspiration to shape our lives deeply, we need to become contemplatives….” I love this. This was before he and I knew one another well, but God was already speaking to him as he was to me about contemplation, which simply means to be in communion with God, present and open to God’s presence and action.

“For inspiration to change our world,” he declared, “we need to become visionaries like Joseph who was able to see, and willing to pursue, new ways of life….[This] will require great vulnerability on our part.” Ah, vulnerability. Yes, we must be vulnerable to God and to one another. With care, with wisdom, but definitely vulnerable.

And last I want to note that Charles said “we must be willing to let go of who we think we are and of our way of being and then to enter into other modes of existence to which we are called” and that “to really make a difference, some of that will have to be done in the presence of other human beings.” This is essential. Christian artists are not lone rangers. They are expressions of the community of God. We do this together.

Now let me turn to Kathy Hulin’s 2004 Keynote address, ten years ago. Kathy was bold. She titled her message, “Filled with the Fullness of God.” Did you hear that? She called for us to filled with God, puny us; fragile, weak, limited us.

Kathy based her message in the book of Ephesians and first read Eph. 2:10 to us, which says, “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” This is challenging enough.

Then she went for the heart of Paul’s message and challenged us with what it says. She said, “The culmination of these chapters is a prayer where I believe the central purpose of the letter is expressed,” after which she read Ephesians 3:16-19: “16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Wow! Notice what the Apostle Paul was praying and that we are to be the answer to his prayer. Paul wants us to have power—not power to dominate; the power to know Christ’s love. To know that which is beyond knowledge. English professors like me call that an oxymoron, a fancy word meaning contradictory, non-sensical. And that is what the Apostle Paul and Kathy want, for us to know that which is beyond knowledge. And that’s not all. Verse 19 calls for us to “be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Kathy goes on to say, “…here we are at the Lasker Summer Music Festival. We come as musicians and music-lovers and we are being called to live out of the fullness of God,” and she asks, “What does that mean for us here today? What personal message can we glean from this calling?”

This is her answer: “Right from the very beginning we are summoned to be filled with the Spirit and not with things of the earth.”

She adds, “I’m not sure my experience is universal, or that it sheds any light on interpreting today’s passage, but I believe it illustrates a powerful connection between God and music. That connection [has] allowed me to use music to experience the fullness of God in a way that released me from the pettiness of my old self.” Wow again, Released from the old self, she says. This is the promise of the Gospel.

“So, then,” she continues, “let us ‘be filled with the Spirit of God as we sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among ourselves.’” This is what the Lasker Summer Music Festival is about. This is what we are doing this week.

Kathy concludes her sermon this way: “These thoughts help us to contemplate the content of our music-making, but what about our attitude? If we continue with our passage, it says: ‘Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.’ Here we are instructed to give thanks to God always and for everything. Our attitude in all that we do should be one of thankfulness, and it should be at the root of our music-making. We should also come to our music-making with humility before God and one another. These are not radical ideas to the Christian mindset, but I believe they are radical to the musical world that teaches us our art. In many cases, thankfulness and humility run counter to the culture that trained us. That’s why we need passages like this and places like this to remind us of the significance of putting God first in our lives. Let us agree to put attitudes of thanksgiving and humility into our work this week and carry that into all the work we do back home. Let us be witnesses for Christ to the musical world through our attitudes.”

And Kathy gives final expression to her challenge this way: “So here we are – at the Lasker Summer Music Festival being asked to take into full account our musical work in light of our calling to be filled with the fullness of God…. I invite you to meditate on these things this week. Speak psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to one another. Take this time to think about how God comes first in your life and informs the work that you do. The Lasker Summer Music Festival is a unique place where you can explore your calling as an artist while striving to be filled with the fullness of God.”

Now let me turn from that challenge back to Mozart. He is relevant to being filled with the fullness of God. Remember these words of his: “Silence is very important. The silence between the notes is as important as the notes themselves” (from The Life and Times of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart).

What does this kind of awareness of silence and its relationship to music provide? What is the point? Let me quote a few famous Mozart fans for answers.

First, Johannes Brahms:  “If we cannot write with the beauty of Mozart, let us at least try to write with his purity.” Remember that purity of heart is the term Jesus used, and he said that the pure of heart would see God.

Aaron Copland: “Mozart tapped the source from which all music flows, expressing himself with a spontaneity and refinement and breathtaking rightness.”  I like the term Copland uses here: rightness. It suggests fitting together, all parts working together to create a sublime effect.

Albert Einstein: “Mozart is the greatest composer of all. Beethoven created his music, but the music of Mozart is of such purity and beauty that one feels he merely found it —that it has always existed as part of the inner beauty of the universe waiting to be revealed.”

And finally Georg Solti, the renowned conductor: “Mozart makes you believe in God because it cannot be by chance that such a phenomenon arrives into this world and leaves such an unbounded number of unparalleled masterpieces.” Isn’t this what we are called to do with our lives? To make people believe in God with the rightness of our lives and our purity of heart?

Now I am going to go from Mozart to the famous pop-rock musician Sting. If you know Sting, you may think I’m turning from the sublime to the…well, I’m not sure what comparison to use. I’m not actually a Sting fan—I am a fan of a commencement speech he gave back in the mid 1990’s at the Berklee College of Music. His awareness of silence and of the deep sources of music amazes me, and I want to share some of his insights with you.

This is what Sting said to those graduates: “For my mother, playing the piano was the only time that I wasn’t the center of her world—the only time she ignored me. So I knew that something significant—some important ritual—was being enacted here. I suppose I was being initiated into something—initiated into some sort of mystery. The mystery of music.”

Sting tells us that “musicians aren’t particularly good role models in society. We really don’t have a very good reputation. Philanderers, alcoholics, addicts, alimony-jumpers, tax-evaders. And I’m not just talking about rock musicians. Classical musicians have just as bad a reputation. And jazz musicians…forget it!”

“But,” he says, “when you watch a musician play—when he enters that private musical world—you often see a child at play, innocent and curious, full of wonder at what can only be adequately described as a mystery—a sacred mystery even. Something deep. Something strange. Both joyous and sad. Something impossible to explain in words.”

He speaks of the mystery of composing: “Still, if somebody asks me how I write songs, I have to say, ‘I don’t really know.’ I don’t really know where they come from. A melody is always a gift from somewhere else. You just have to learn to be grateful and pray that you will be blessed again some other time.”

But the deepest mystery of all, Sting says, is silence: “Paradoxically, I’m coming to believe in the importance of silence in music…. I’m wondering whether, as musicians, the most important thing we do is merely to provide a frame for silence. I’m wondering if silence itself is perhaps the mystery at the heart of music?”

As he moves toward his conclusion, Sting asks, “…is silence the most perfect music of all?”

His final words to those graduates were “… music and silence are priceless gifts, may you always possess them. May they always possess you.” A beautiful closing, a blessing.

Let me move from Sting to the Scriptures. I want to redeem myself for my excursion into pop-rock. Consider these verses with me in terms of our calling to love God first and relate to him in purity and silence and stillness.

“’Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’Jesus replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all   your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.’”  Matt. 22:36-38

We need a practice to do this. We must practice slowing down, being present, being aware. It doesn’t just happen. All deep relationships require times of just being together.

John 4:24                    “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

Psalm 37:7                  “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him.”

Psalm 46:10                “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Psalm 62:1,5               “For God alone my soul waits in silence.”

Psalm 131:2                “I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.”

Gal. 2:20                     “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”

Col. 3:11                     “Christ is all, and is in all.”

This is our goal. This is our calling. And it takes some intentionality. Some practice.

Now as I move to conclude this message, just a few words from the famous spiritual writer Henri Nouwen, from his book The Way of the Heart.

He writes: “A word with power is a word that comes out of silence. A word that bears fruit emerges from the silence and returns to it. It is a word that reminds us of the silence from which it comes and leads us back to that silence. A word that is not rooted in silence is a weak, powerless word that sounds like a “clashing cymbal or a booming gong” (1 Corinthians 13:1)” (49).

Let me substitute music for word in that last sentence: “Music that is not rooted in silence is weak, powerless music that sounds like a ‘clashing cymbal or a booming gong.’” That really strikes me powerfully.

Nouwen continues, “Silence is the home of the word. Silence gives strength and fruitfulness to the word. We can even say that words are meant to disclose the mystery of the silence from which they come” (41).

Nouwen argues that silence is essential to nourish the inner fire of the Holy Spirit. He says, “A second, more positive, meaning of silence is that it protects the inner fire…. This inner heat is the life of the Holy Spirit within us. Thus, silence is the discipline by which the inner fire of God is tended and kept alive” (45).

“All this is true,” he declares, “only when the silence from which the word comes forth is not emptiness and absence, but fullness and presence, not the human silence of embarrassment, shame, or guilt, but the divine silence in which love rests secure” (49). Let me repeat those last words: “the divine silence in which love rests secure.”

As I draw to the end, I do want to quote at least one poet. I’ve quoted all these musicians, so here’s what one of my favorite poets, Li-Young Lee, had this to say about poetry and silence: “I feel the real medium for me is silence, so I could be writing in any language. To inflect the inner silence, to give it body, that’s all we’re doing. You use the voice to make the silence present. The real subject in poetry isn’t the voice. The real subject is silence.”
Let me invite you to consider embracing the attitude expressed by a poem I wrote some time ago, but revised for this year’s Festival. Let me read it to you.

 

SUBMITTING TO SILENCE
Yes, we submit to you, silence,

and gladly, too.

we have learned that those

who would use sound well

must understand what sound cannot do,

must realize that sound

emerges from silence

and must find the ground of its meaning

in its silent source.

Perhaps later we will compose and perform.

But first we will sit in your presence,

still and open,

resting in your quiet embrace.

 

Let’s take a few moments as we close to actually rest in the Lord’s quiet embrace together as the poem says. I want you to join me in a simple meditation on Psalm 37:7: “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him.”

The meditation will work like this. I will read the whole verse and allow for a few moments of meditative silence. Then I will read the first half of it, “Be still before the Lord,” and allow some moments of silence. Then I will read simply the words, “Be still,” and again allow for some silence. And finally I will read only the word, “Be,” and after the word “Be” we will have our final silence. After this final silence, I will conclude with Amen. So please join me in this concluding meditation, and let’s together rest in the silence, open and present to the presence of the Lord.

 

[The first reading:] “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him.” [a few moments of silence]

 

[The second reading:] “Be still before the LORD.” [a few moments of silence]

 

[The third reading:] “Be still.” [a few moments of silence]

 

[The fourth reading:] “Be.” [a final few moments of silence]

 

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mini-lecture from An American Concert, July 12, 2014
by Charles Hulin

John Cage’s 4’33” is a cornerstone of 20th century music and a provocative statement about the nature of music and the roles of composers, performers, and audience members. 4’33” revolutionized music in ways that, when all is said and done, might very well surpass the impact of even the greatest musical innovators such as Beethoven and Stravinsky. In brief, with this piece, Cage freed music from the preferences and the will of the composer. In so doing, he re-instated the wonders of sound and silence for many jaded listeners.

Essentially, Cage designed a piece using no particular sounds or silences of his own choosing. Instead, the music consists of whatever is heard during its 4 minute and 33 second span.

That approach to composition might sound a little abstract and a lot eccentric. But it has been suggested by experts on the subject that, beyond those philosophical issues, Cage was doing something very American with this piece.

It turns out that the first performance of 4’33” took place in a venue a little like this one. It was a small building in a wooded setting, far from the noises of the big city. And in the stillness of the performance, the sounds of nature were easily heard. In other words, on its first hearing, 4’33” was an American landscape painted with sounds, and from the earliest days of American music, a primary way of constructing an American identity has been to express something of the American landscape through sounds.

And so we are opening the doors and windows to invite you to hear the sounds and silences of our setting during these 4 minutes and 33 seconds as music.

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So you’ll know what to expect, I’m going to describe how the performance will unfold. When I come back into the sanctuary, I’ll walk to the piano, bow, and seat myself, just like I would if I were sitting down to play a work by Chopin or Bach, but instead of placing a score on the music rack, I’ll place a timer so I can keep track of the passage of those 4 minutes and 33 seconds during which I won’t be playing any notes. When it is time for the piece to begin, I’ll raise the fall-board, and when the piece is over, I’ll lower it. Then, I’ll stand up and take a bow. And if you like the experience, or if you’re just polite, you’ll applaud.

The purpose of going through those motions, of enacting the standard ritual of a concert, is to draw us all into the mode of listening we normally apply to the live performance of a piece of music. It was Cage’s hope that listening in that way would help us to notice the rich layers of sound our minds usually filter out and that we would realize through the process that, as long as we’re alive, we will be surrounded by sound that can become music to us.

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Portico Viewby Charles Hulin

 

In recognition of the significant contribution of literary friends to this year’s time in Lasker,

I share my reflections on the festival in the form of a poetic remembrance of our opening concert,

Sound and Silence.

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve stopped the old clock’s ticking

And I sit at the grand in the warmth of the sanctuary.

Mozart’s Fantasy is on my mind and in the air.

Trying on his hands, I enter and exit silence in Wolfgang’s subtle ways.

 

With a composer’s mood, Jim skates his bow across the strings.

The cello tones glide into a cove of calm Vaughan Williams charted in his folk music suite.

 

In the reverberant worship space, Anna’s voice is heard in three full dimensions.

Its mother-earth richness lifts the ink from the page

and the words of the Charter live for those present.

 

Jeremy’s flute-breathed sounds are compact, brilliant, tense, and clever.

 

Paula reveals Beethoven: expressive, methodical, and unyielding.

 

I return to the piano with more Mozart.

Across the room, Kathy and Jeremy listen and play beyond thought or planning.

Aloft on tremolos and scales from the keyboard, my partners’ instincts do the surfing.

They find true ensemble and discover the chamber music of the moment.

 

Rickey declaims the syllable “be” at the end of his passionate preaching.

The word persists and I realize it is bigger than any sentence.

It is older than the Law

And the way Rickey says it is more personal than a command.

It is an utterance from the God who desires us to be

And who desires us.

 

Finally we sing the festival hymn.

The organ’s dense sound undergirds the tune

And we all pivot on a prayer word –

“Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!”