Music: A Free Man’s Art
By Seth Winter
“Only the Lover sings.” –St. Augustine
Every Wednesday at John Paul II Junior College, a group of students and teachers make their way up to the roof for choir practice. I marvel at the students who come week after week with no incentive but that of singing well for Mass and special occasions. They willingly give up some of their precious lunch hour for music. Many students use this time to work on homework that is due later that day or to snatch a moment or two of quiet before the afternoon classes begin. But these students sing because… because why?
They sing because they understand, at least intuitively, that there are some things that are worth doing in themselves. There are some things more important than staying ahead of the workaday world. Music is one of the seven traditional Liberal Arts upon which we base our curriculum, and the
claim of the Liberal Arts is that they set men free. We work so that we can rest in goodness; we don’t rest so that we can work better. Human beings are most free, most themselves, not when they are at work, but when they rest in the goodness of God and creation. That’s why heaven isn’t a factory: it's a wedding feast.
Music is a particularly beautiful way to rest in goodness. Humans sing because they want to craft words and a melody to show the beauty and goodness of the thing they are singing about. A man writes a love song because he wants to contemplate and praise the beauty of the woman he loves. A citizen writes a patriotic song because he wants to contemplate and praise the goodness of the country he loves. Singing is not primarily about getting views or getting applause. Singing is most properly singing when it is a person contemplating what they love.
I have often seen this on the faces of my students as they joyfully pour out their hearts in song. Delight shines in their eyes as they lift up their voices. When a beautiful harmony locks into place, simple pleasure unites the whole group.
And how much more beautiful when the object of their song is their and my Divine Lord? There are few things more contemplative than singing the praises of God. There are few acts more liberating than to “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord” (Psalm 100).