Enraptured by Brahms


The celebrated windows flamed with light
directly pouring north across the Seine;
we rustled into place.  Then violins
vaunting Vivaldi’s strident strength, then Brahms,
seemed to suck with their passionate sweetness,
bit by bit, the vigor from the red,
the blazing blue, so that the listening eye
saw suddenly the thick black lines, in shapes
of shield and cross and strut and brace, that held
the holy glowing fantasy together.
The music surged; the glow became a milk,
a whisper to the eye, a glimmer ebbed
until our beating hearts, our violins
were cased in thin but solid sheets of lead.

Evening Concert, Saint-Chapelle by John Updike

Why do humans love music? What part of the melody enraptures us again and again, not just in this century but in every one before ours, and makes us feel something more than ourselves? In his poem Evening Concert, Saint-Chapelle, John Updike explores a small piece of this in a way that resonated with me. The first half of the poem describes a classical music concert and slowly becomes energized as Updike illustrates what the listeners hear and feel—“passionate sweetness” (5), “the blazing blue” (7), a “glowing fantasy” (10). Some say humans are nothing more than animals bent on survival, but I disagree. We are more than that, even in the way that we feel something when we hear music. This is what music should look to us and what it should do to us.

I love the way Updike describes the music in the chapel. He describes music as “shapes/…that held/ the holy glowing fantasy together” (8-10), as if one careless breath might break the shapes apart and erase the floating emotion. (What would happen if an unbroken shape floated away? I read a book, Lost and Found, which had a similar idea. What if sound traveled in bubbles and “you had to pop each one to let the sound out”? (Brooke Davis, Lost and Found.) )  He ends the poem by saying, “…our beating hearts, our violins/ were cased in thin but solid sheets of lead” (13-14). We allow our hearts to open up to music for a short while before encasing them in lead again. Music is where we learn how to be vulnerable, how to bleed, how to see life with new eyes. When the music ends, we close up again and the world starts spinning like usual.

In the context of this poem, music may represent general art. Music, visual art, acting, writing—they are all pointless endeavors that give the illusion of worthlessness, but art brings meaning and color to our lives in a way nothing else can. Art and beauty makes you feel something, and that is perhaps the most meaningful part of living.

This Day

The day has finally come. Presents sit under the tree, carols play on the radio, and somewhere in Bethlehem a long time ago, a nervous couple hold their newborn for the very first time. There are many firsts this evening. First birth, first child, first time a god has given up his majestic throne to clumsily grab at hay and scream at the world around him. The day is far from over, and the magic, the miracles, has just begun.

The significance of Christmas intrigues me sometimes. Certainly Jesus’ teachings and miracles are also worth celebrating and obeying, and we can learn far more from the rest of Jesus’ life than his very beginning. All we have is a new family, some terrified and rejoicing shepherds, a few curious wise men—a scatter of transformed people that continue to expand as the years go by. This small spark is the very beginning, the first chapter to the greatest transformation the world has ever been swept away by. The real fire of changed lives will begin much later as Jesus begins his ministry, and later as he becomes our sacrifice. The birth of Jesus on this chaotic but peaceful night introduces the birth of the cross, our new lives in Christ. The swaddling cloths will be traded in for a mocking purple robe and a thorny crown. The dusty, smelly stable will be replaced by a dusty, dark tomb…

…and then light! Glorious, bright, living life! Crosses, crowns, tombs—transformed into new hearts, forgiveness, and life everlasting. Gloria, hallelujah, glory to God in the highest! The angels sang truth in the very beginning, above awed shepherds on that significant night. The birth of Jesus marks the start of this amazing, heart-wrenching love story. This is the first chapter that will lead to the climax. Hold on tight—it’s a bumpy ride.

“Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” (Luke 2:14)

The Final Reveal

He stopped and looked at the ground, smiling in a wicked way. “You have no idea.”

Alice studied his face, trying to find some sort of positive emotion on his face. She didn’t succeed.

Jonathon tensed against his bonds, struggling with everything he had. “You can’t do this, Peter! This isn’t like you!”

“Tell him, Alice,” he replied. His voice was laced with bitterness. “Tell him the truth.”

“What–? He’s lying. You don’t know anything!” Jonathon locked his gaze onto Alice, and she fought hard not to turn away. She couldn’t do this. She couldn’t possibly…

“TELL HIM THE TRUTH!” Peter thundered impatiently.

She hung her head back. “Jonathon, I…” She couldn’t go through with this. Jonathon’s pained expression stabbed into her.

Peter’s eyes brightened with a hint of insanity. “All those years accompanying her, Jonathon, and not once, NOT ONCE, did you think she could be on my side, now did you?”

“What do you–?”

“It was all a hoax,” she blurted out, and now there was no turning back. “The partnership, the…the plan, Jonathon–I set you up. I’m sorry. I had to.”

“You–you can’t…” Jonathon strained against the ropes desperately. “You’re lying!”

Alice shrugged. “I’m not. I wish I was, but I’m not.”

“If he threatened you in any way, Alice, I swear…Whatever this wicked man did to you, he’s going to pay.”

“Don’t you get it?” she yelled. “The entire thing was a lie! I was never your friend. I never loved you. The past four years have been a charade. It’s over, Jonathon.”

“But, I…” He relaxed, giving up on the bonds. “I love you.”

“I know,” she said, calmer.

“Well, enough chatter, I’d say!” Peter smiled gleefully and grabbed at Jonathon’s ropes. “It’s time for some fun, Alice…or should I say Alex?”

A silence hung in the air for a single moment, broken only by Jonathon’s struggling breathing. “Alex?” he quietly repeated. “You don’t mean…THE Alex?”

“I’m afraid it’s true,” she replied. “Makes sense now, doesn’t it? The notes on your doorstep, the scratches in the trees…”

“It was all you.”

“A kind, honest man is easy to manipulate, I’m afraid,” Peter said. “Besides, your time has run out. To the basement!”

Alice glanced at Jonathon one more time before following Peter down the stairs. Her last reminder of him was a gentle weeping, a sound that tore into Alice’s heart despite her stone walls, a sound that remained ingrained in her soul for much longer than she would have ever liked or imagined.

Saturn (extra song)

As I’m sure you can see, I chose the below songs based on lyrics, not really music, because I am a writer and songs speak to me through their words. This song is an exception. I first heard it a couple months ago and it is also one of those songs that you have to completely immerse yourself in the music to fully appreciate it. I usually dislike songs with begin with a long, carried out introduction of instruments, but I was captured by its beauty in the first five seconds. The violin later accompanied by piano and other instruments builds up but it never loses its feeling of wonder and beauty.

It’s no surprise, however, that I was still caught up in the lyrics. I have never heard a song that compares to it because very rarely have I come across a song that sings about stars and the universe in the way this did. This is a wonder song (in fact, if Wonder had been a category I would have chosen Saturn, by Sleeping at Last), but it also tells a story about a person who is now gone. I love the line where it says, “I tried to write it down but I could never find a pen,” because they can never quite replicate the way their friend spoke about the universe. That’s what makes this song sad as well as beautiful. There’s something missing now when they look at the stars or “explain the infinite”.

This song makes me (like Indescribable and even All of the Stars) want to run outside at night to stare up at the infinite, catch a glimpse of who God is, contemplate our insane existence in this universe. I love it. I love this song.

* * *

The following 7 posts are from a school Psychology assignment in which I had to choose one song for each category (Friendship, Joy, Comfort, Knowledge, Religion, and Love, as well as an extra one) and write a reflection. Enjoy!

All of the Stars (Love)

I have never been in love, but I would imagine that this song describes what it’s like—or, if anything, what it feels like. I would imagine that when I’m looking up at stars on a cloudless night, it would be the feeling of warmth inside of me. I would imagine that when I hear a song that links to a memory, it would be the feeling of connection. I would imagine that when I’m going through my day, I would jump to thoughts of them when I see something in a store or when I notice the sun hitting the mountains. Being in love wouldn’t be having this person become my world. Instead, I would see them everywhere in my world, in all the little beautiful things and moments that I encounter.

This song is different because most love songs have their love right next to them, living life together. All of the Stars (by Ed Sheeran) has a love story between two people on different continents. Despite the difference, they take comfort in the fact that they look up at the same stars and appreciate the same wonder. They may be “miles away”, but they are not worlds away.

When or if I fall in love, I want him to enhance my life, not become my life. I want him to add to my wonder and joy of God and nature and words. Being in love will be far from perfect—scars bleeding and all—but it will feel like home. I’m beginning to see a theme to my song selection. There is great value in home.


* * *

These 7 posts are from a school Psychology assignment in which I had to choose one song for each category (Friendship, Joy, Comfort, Knowledge, Religion, and Love) and write a reflection. Enjoy!

What Do I Know Of Holy? (Religion)

When I’m in a serious, contemplative mood, this is perhaps my favourite song. I grew up listening to it, which makes me love it even more because of its childhood connections, but it wasn’t until I rediscovered it a few years ago and completely immersed myself in the music that I truly fell in love with it. It’s one of those songs that if I ever sat down to write a song with this theme (and given amazing talent), this would be exactly it. For many songs, I enjoy most of the song. Sometimes the second verse isn’t as good or the bridge doesn’t meet my expectations. But for this song, I have to stop whatever I’m doing to listen to it because I can’t get distracted—if I miss even one line, I want to back up and hear it again.

The instruments and voice are nice, not spectacular, but the lyrics are everything in this song. I’ve grown up in church and I know “how” to be a Christian. I’ve made promises to him that I’ve broken; I’ve volunteered in kid’s church and told them of God’s power; I’ve prayed meaningless, insincere prayers to the God of the universe—I’ve done all these things! I remember one time, during a Hearing God session, I sat down in a kid’s church room and tried to hear God’s voice, but instead, I talked and talked about how I wanted to hear him and I barely listened. I think I know God, but I don’t. This song opened my eyes because for once I wondered, “What if I actually met a disguised Jesus on the streets? Would I recognize him?” You see, I’m familiar with Christianity. God, on the other hand, blows me away when I catch “a glimpse of who [he] might be.” God is sacred and beautiful and full of fire. His wounds heal me. His angels praise him. His creation exclaims him. This song gives me insignificance, but I’m okay with that. It reminds me that I am nothing without God, that he is bigger and more majestic than I can comprehend. What do I know of holy? Nothing. Maybe that’s fine. I’m learning.


* * *

These 7 posts are from a school Psychology assignment in which I had to choose one song for each category (Friendship, Joy, Comfort, Knowledge, Religion, and Love) and write a reflection. Enjoy!

Come Home (Knowledge)

It wasn’t very long ago when I began listening to OneRepublic, and this song caught me. It’s different than the others they sing because of the calmer instruments and the sorrowful, serious tone. I appreciate unique perspectives and a chance to step in other’s shoes. (It reminds me of I’ll be home for Christmas by Josh Groban, with the voices of soldiers sending love to their families back home.) Come Home (by OneRupublic) is a plea to soldiers from someone who knows that what they’re doing is right but still desperately misses them. It’s a difficult issue because to serve their country and fight for freedom is an act of selflessness and bravery and deserves the highest respect, but it’s hard for all the people left home. “I’m tired of justifying,” he says. “The fight for you is all I’ve ever known.” All he wants is his loved one home again. It reveals that these soldiers are someone’s spouse or friend or brother—they’re real people, not just names or numbers or faces on a television. I chose to put this song in the knowledge category because I am quite clueless of what goes on during wars, in the troops and at home.

Specifically, I believe this song is from the perspective of a soldier’s young son or daughter. They don’t know much about wars or battles; all they see is the battle inside them, the battle at home. Why can’t the world just get along? Why can’t we just look around at the world’s beauty and stop hating each other? Their innocence in contrast to the reality of war is startling. It reminds of how I used to, and still do in some ways, look at humanity issues like poverty. “Why couldn’t everyone send a couple dollars to these causes?” I wondered. “Why don’t people seem to care?” While I have never had to deal with a soldier family member, this song reminds me of myself and how I wish people would deal with issues more generously and lovingly.

* * *

These 7 posts are from a school Psychology assignment in which I had to choose one song for each category (Friendship, Joy, Comfort, Knowledge, Religion, and Love) and write a reflection. Enjoy!

Home (Comfort)

Being the somewhat sheltered kid I was, I believe Home (by Phillip Phillips) was the first secular song I began constantly listening to. In fact, when I first heard it, I didn’t know if it was a good idea to listen to it because it wasn’t Christian and he even mentioned demons! (At the time I didn’t know that Phillip Phillips was a Christian, even though it doesn’t matter; the content of the song matters.) But I couldn’t get enough of it. I loved the harmony and the acoustic sound to it—it felt raw and real. That’s why I put it in the comfort category. Not only is it one of the few songs I still listen to that I listened to at age twelve, it also feels genuine and simple. It feels like a song you could play around a campfire. It reminds me of memories, of good times, of friendship, which can all be summed up in the idea of familiar home.

I love the lyrics and how, despite the circumstances and the unknown, any place can be made a home. My family recently switched home churches, which has been unfamiliar and strange, but this song reminds me that I can make this new church my home. It doesn’t mean things are going to come easy, but I’m “not alone” in my life. I can come back to this song time and time again, for any reason—bad day, good day, bored, feeling inspired—and take comfort in the beauty of the music and the simplicity of the lyrics. Unlike many modern, popular songs, this is genuine and real. There is great value and comfort in that.


* * *

These 7 posts are from a school Psychology assignment in which I had to choose one song for each category (Friendship, Joy, Comfort, Knowledge, Religion, and Love) and write a reflection. Enjoy!

Indescribable (Joy)

When my aunt and uncle bought me concert tickets to see Chris Tomlin, I was slightly disappointed because Chris Tomlin’s songs seem to come from the “How to write a worship song (in five minutes or less)” video on YouTube (seriously, look it up). He’s like the Eric Walters of the music world, spewing out song after song but never having anything spectacular. However, I had forgotten about Indescribable and when Chris Tomlin began playing it, the entire concert was worth it. Something about hearing a song I had occasionally sang in kid’s church for the first time in years, in a giant arena full of lights and music, with thousands of voices worshiping God, overwhelmed me with joy and wonder. I had never associated this song with joy, but I haven’t heard the song quite the same since.

        I have experienced God in nature time and time again, and I love how this song keeps listing off amazing thing after amazing thing about God’s creation and repeats how we can’t completely understand or describe God. I love that. His impossibilities and infinity fills me with excitement and joy. “None can fathom.” It makes me want to race outside and drink in the beauty around me and go exploring and travel to distant countries and walk on the moon and see everything in God’s indescribable, uncontainable creation. I also appreciate that the song focuses only on God and his creation. Half of the worship songs I know keep bringing it back to Christians and our struggles and journeys, but worship is all about God, not people. And yet there’s one line in the song that connects God’s amazingness to us—”you see the depths of my heart and you love me the same.” The God that created the entire universe still loves me and knows me. That’s amazing.


* * *

These 7 posts are from a school Psychology assignment in which I had to choose one song for each category (Friendship, Joy, Comfort, Knowledge, Religion, and Love) and write a reflection. Enjoy!

My Wish (Friendship)

My sister Junia said My Wish (by Rascal Flatts) is one of those songs you had to play with the volume turned up loud, and I agree. You can’t play it quietly or have it as background music to your homework because it is rich with meaning and sincerity. It speaks a story, the story we all reach now and again in our lives—leaving the familiar, saying goodbye, a journey of change and life. I feel this especially as graduation creeps up on me and I’ll soon begin my own adventure, this feeling of apprehension and vulnerability and anticipation. But in the centre of this song is someone who also wants the best for you, who is excited for your new journey and is willing to let you take your own, delicate steps toward the future.

        I like this song because it isn’t a utopian idea but it still is full of optimism and joy. The friend acknowledges that mistakes will be made and decisions will be difficult, but he hopes “you know somebody loves you”, whether that be himself or a significant other or a family member. He is a support. There is a bittersweet taste to the lyrics because throughout this journey, you’re going to leave people and places behind—it’s a journey, after all. It sells the idea of a full, satisfied life packed with adventure and emotions and memories, all wrapped up in one person’s desire for their friend. This friend’s wish in the song is something I want in all my friendships and what I hope to give to those around me.

* * *

This is the last of the 7 posts from a school Psychology assignment in which I had to choose one song for each category (Friendship, Joy, Comfort, Knowledge, Religion, and Love) and write a reflection. Enjoy!