Sunday, September 29, 2013

Times Go By Turns

Drawn from a line in a poem written by St. Robert Southwell, SJ, Times go by Turns is an absolutely beautiful album recorded recently by New York Polyphony. If you wish to get a sample of the music:

Rather than giving a critique or a music review - which, as little more than a feis musician, I'm not really qualified to do! - let me say something of why I love this album. Perhaps it is too easy, or cowardly, to give a rational critique of a piece of music, feeling the need to justify oneself by using big words or concepts in order to show your audience that you know what you're talking about.

I don't know if I know what I'm talking about, but that's never stopped me from speaking before. I might lack the finesse of a classically trained critic, but I can at least tell you of why something has moved my heart.

The music of the New York Polyphony, for me, undoes a great deal of the damage canned pop music has wrecked upon my ears. Pop music tends to pander to common tastes: simple refrains, catchy phrases, short and simple melodies. A good pop song is one you can sing with in the car.

This album is the opposite: you're not going to sing along. Nor should you. This album gives you a Mass setting wherein you might come to find a sense of inner silence. As voices fade in and out, the listener is carried deeper and deeper into a richly woven musical tapestry. The point of this music is not to give you the claim of mastery of the melody but, in a way that is counter-intuitive to modern listening audience, it aims to allow your ears and heart to be conquered. This is music that must be listened to, stewed in, and absorbed. This album is therapy for the soul, releasing it from the commonplace and allowing to touch the sublime, the transcendent.

I get it: self-help books are all the rage. We all want a book, or guide, or program to tell us how to improve some aspect of our lives. Perhaps we have got it all wrong: rather than trying to empower ourselves by mastering texts with our eyes, it may be that what we need is to allow our hearts to be mastered through our ears listening to music.

If you are a lover of classical music and appreciate vocal ensembles, this is an album you will appreciate. If you are a person who struggles with prayer, a person who finds his or her mind so active so much of the time that it's hard to find the space for contemplation, this is the album for you. For this album will draw you into itself and, as the melody washes over you, you'll find yourself addressed from without. Instead of trying to "self-improve," you'll find yourself drawn into a silent space where you'll be able to listen - perhaps for the first time - for the wholly and holy other who is able to offer the healing you so fervently desire.

Albums such as this give me such joy. As I surrender to the melody and lose myself in the voices, I find myself more able to listen not only to the music but also to the inner stillness at the very center of my being. Purchased on iTunes for $9.99, this could easily be the type of listening one could do en route to work in the morning (it'd make a hell of a meditation period during traffic) or for a quiet evening of solo or communal prayer with a loved one.

I, for one, found this enjoyable with a glass of Four Vines Sophisticate  while relaxing after dinner. 

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