Last Sunday at the end of the story, we left Dave sitting at his workbench, 'singing' along to the Brahms Requiem. Meanwhile, Boots the Cat was unsuccessfully trying to take a nap on a cushion nearby ...
Boots: Dave, I know you seem quite happy this afternoon, but I had a long night; could you please keep it down a bit, so that I can get some sleep?
Dave: Boots, what's wrong, don't you like my 'singing'?
Boots: Well, if I could understand it, I might appreciate it a bit better ...
Dave: Ah, so you don't speak German?
Boots: Is that what it is? What does that phrase you just sung mean?
Dave: You mean the one that starts "Herr, lehre doch mich ..."? It's actually something from the Bible; "Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is: that I may know how frail I am." That's very old-fashioned language, I think they are trying to express the thought that humans are 'weak mortals', and that a future life in heaven is something to look forward to.
Boots: Do you actually believe anything like that?
Dave: No, no way! I have no religious beliefs whatsoever. When I was just a few days old, I was taken to a church for christening, but my parents did that simply because it was the community custom. I don't think of myself as christian at all.
Boots: Well, if you don't believe it, then why are you singing it? And why are you playing religious music anyway?
Dave: That's actually a very deep question. Partly, I'm just trying to be practical; so much of our traditional music and literature is based on religious ideas, that it's difficult to avoid it. But what's more interesting is the idea that somebody's work can have meanings beyond what the creator intended.
Boots: You mean Brahms the composer?
Dave: Oh, you know who wrote this piece ... how did you know it is by Brahms?
Boots: I read the record jacket ... you left it lying right beside my cushion ... :-)
Dave: I see ... Anyway, although I guess Brahms himself may have had quite serious religious concepts in mind when he sat down to write the music, I think that the resulting piece can be 'divorced' from those ideas when we listen to it. After all, music is only vibrations in the air - there is nothing 'religious' about that.
Boots: But you don't listen because it is 'vibrations'; you listen because it moves you - it affects your emotions. Brahms wanted to make you feel something, and obviously you are feeling it.
Dave: Yes, that's true. He was an incredibly skilled composer; as you have heard this morning, he could write music straight to the heart.
Boots: So you admit that his religious feelings affect you?
Dave: No! Those violins playing that beautiful melody just now aren't playing about 'god'; they are playing notes that describe human feelings. A religious person who hears this piece may feel "God is glorious!" Somebody like me who hears it will feel "Life is glorious!"
Boots: I don't think Brahms would be happy to hear you talk this way!
Dave: Maybe not, but his part in this story is finished. He created this music, and then sent it out into the world. It's like having children; we certainly play a part in their creation, but we don't 'own' them, and they grow up to be completely independent of us in the end. And do you know, I suspect that Brahms would simply be happy that his music was able to reach into the 'future', and make people happy enough to sing out loud, even though they don't understand the words.
Boots: Maybe you're right; I don't even know where my kids are these days. Anyway, I'm hungry, I'll see you later. Goodbye ...
Dave: Boots, I didn't know you were a christian!
Boots: What do you mean?
Dave: You just said "God be with you ..."
(we'll chat with Boots again another day ...)Story #67, April 8 2007
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