Co-creating with the divine—in a classical sense

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"Even though I had little encouragement, it slowly dawned on me over the years that classical music had the special ability to connect me with the divine," writes columnist Wayne Holst. Photo: Martin Cambriglia/Shutterstock

I believe that as humans become ever more proficient in creating beautiful music, they grow as co-creators with God. For some this may seem obvious, but for me it has taken a lifetime to recognize and appreciate.

I grew up in a Canadian cultural environment where classical music was not part of my ordinary experience. Even though I had little encouragement, it slowly dawned on me over the years that classical music had the special ability to connect me with the divine.

While music of many kinds can do this, I’d briefly like to suggest how that developed for me with classical music.

I am not a musician myself, but over the years, my partner and I have invested in both an expansive home collection and many public events of classical music. How did this develop for us—and especially for someone like me, raised far from any orchestra? There has likely been no single path to our connecting with God through these traditional forms of music, but I can point to a few strong candidates. First, we might have realized that the Judeo-Christian religious tradition has long viewed music as a way of enhancing faith experience. Diving into Scripture, we could start with the Bible and recognize the Psalms as classical hymns that have long been used to enhance private and public devotion. The Hebrew and Christian testaments contain worship expressions that enrich and accompany a worshipper.

Finally, our growing love of classical music—and our understanding of the way in which God interacts with it—might be tied to our current season. We have long realized that a melody we love can emerge from secular and religious sources, and yet speak to us in soul-enriching ways. Now, though, we have reached a time of life when it is possible to expand our appreciation for music that enriches and inspires us. In retirement, we have the time and desire to experience beauty where it can be found.

Whatever your age, you might consider seeking out classical music as a new (or even rediscovered) means of connecting with God. Perhaps, as I did, you’ll find an unexpected love—and I think I’m not alone in this. Canadians are blessed with remarkable access to classical music across the length and breadth of our nation, and the number of artists and centres in which to enjoy them continues to expand in quantity and quality.

While the notion of a growing classical music scene may seem counterintuitive to some readers, a few Calgary-area events we attended last year suggest to me that interest in classical music is, in fact, strong. The first is the Rosebud Chamber Music Festival, which has become an annual celebration and part of the more extensive theatre season centred in the small community of Rosebud, Alta.—near Drumheller, northeast of Calgary. This past year, we enjoyed the final string quartet concert performed by wonderfully gifted Canada and Japan-born artists that played to an appreciative audience. The program consisted of works by Debussy, Beethoven and Brahms, offered with great skill and sensitivity. The fact that the event took place under semi-religious auspices and in the local community church took nothing away from—indeed added to—the substance of the experience. On the one hand, this event could be described as entertainment. Yet in a true sense, it was also worship or praise, because of the setting and devotion displayed by the performers.

We also took in the final performance of the Banff International String Quartet Competition (BISQC). In all, nine quartets had received invitations to compete for a week; three remained for the final run-off. Groups came to the event from Europe, Asia and North America, all of them highly qualified. We enjoyed three of Beethoven’s string quartets during that final round. Two quartets (from the UK and Canada/US) received first prizes, unprecedented at the competition.

Events like BISQC are putting Canada on the global cultural map, and performances we saw were exquisite. But Rosebud too was outstanding. What human co-creation with the divine these activities displayed!

Whatever your musical preferences, I hope they help draw you closer to God.

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Wayne Holst
Wayne A. Holst was a Lutheran pastor (ELCIC) for 25 years. He taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary for a quarter century and co-ordinates adult spiritual development at St. David’s United Church, Calgary.

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