When it comes to matters musical, I am a rank amateur--a lover without training or expertise; a listener who knows what he likes; a hearty singer without much skill. I'm grateful for a profession in which I can constantly create an acoustical ambience of music to wallpaper my workday.
However, as a philosopher with interest in liturgy, I'm also somewhat attuned to what my friend Jeremy Begbie calls the "sonic environment" of worship. Beyond the theological and imagination-shaping significance of lyrics, Begbie has taught me to be attuned to musical form as its own kind of lived theology (a while back this spawned a little reflection on Ryan Adams and Taylor Swift).
So today I've been pondering a classic advent hymn, "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming," that we sang at Sherman Street CRC this morning. Rooted in the imagery of Isaiah 11 (the OT lectionary reading for this second Sunday of advent), with a bit of admittedly romantic flourish and speculation, it was the tune that grabbed me today. Our hymnal sets this to a 1599 German tune, Alte Catholische Kirchengesäng (with harmonization by Michael Praetorius). You can listen to a rendition of it; or here's a snapshot of the tune (from a different hymnal source):
Which is precisely why the tune of the hymn is its own kind of Advent discipline. The notes are teaching us to wait, to experience the impatience of waiting (again!) for the Judge who is coming--who does "not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy; with justice he will give decision for the poor of the earth" (Is. 11:3-4).
How long, O Lord?