Soaring with the BBC Proms
A Christian Science perspective.
On Saturday, Sept. 12, the closing night of the 2009 BBC Promenade concert season in the Royal Albert Hall in London will be carried live on radio, television, and the Internet into millions of homes around the globe.
This year, 100 concerts over 58 days have presented well-loved symphonies; new works in every genre; intimate chamber music; complete operas; and folk music, ensembles, and conductors from many lands. And the program planners have made a special effort to introduce young instrumentalists, young composers, and young conductors.
In keeping with the Proms' 119-year tradition, the nightly programs have also featured large-scale choral works resonating with Bible passages that implore believers to "sing to the Lord ... proclaim His salvation day after day. Declare His glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples" (I Chron. 16:23, 24, New International Version).
Music is an essential and much revered part of Christian Science church services, especially through communal singing of hymns. Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, loved music, and encouraged others to place song at the heart of their worship. On one occasion she wrote: "To-day my soul can only sing and soar. An increasing sense of God's love, omnipresence, and omnipotence enfolds me. Each day I know Him nearer, love Him more, and humbly pray to serve Him better." She suggested that without clamoring for "worldly distinction," we might all "pray aright and demonstrate [our] prayer; sing in faith" ("The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany," pp. 174, 203).
Many have found that when they praise God first in their prayers, they are better prepared to present their needs to Him. And when they recall God's love and mercy, which are so often at the heart of traditional hymns and spirituals, provision and healing flow naturally.
Leaping forward well over 100 years, it's heartening to observe young artists in contemporary Christian music drawing similar conclusions about the role of music in life today. Songwriter-singer Carolyn Arends has suggested that the arts "do even more than help us believe in transformed realities: they kindle faith in unseen realities ... they open a vista to belief in God.... Our creativity becomes one of the ways we delight in [H]im ... participating in the beauty overflowing from the Creator himself" (Christianity Today, June 2009).
We might reason further. Because God is the source of all creativity and love – infinitely and instantly available to everyone, performer and listener alike – music effortlessly crosses racial and class barriers and national and cultural boundaries.
During my years as a BBC concert announcer, I closely observed the proud holders of inexpensive tickets (the "promenaders") who stand, tightly packed for three hours and more, on the main floor of the Albert Hall. Night after night, the music connects people from very different walks of life. It helps cross otherwise formidable gaps in age. Whether the promenaders are joining with patriotic fervor in singing Elgar's "Land of Hope and Glory," or riding their chariots of fire with Hubert Parry and William Blake to build Jerusalem "in England's green and pleasant land," there is spiritual unity and a commitment to joy and peace in every heart.
Whether they recognize it or not, they must surely feel the profound harmonies that assure us of God's love and caring presence – because people of many religious persuasions have found that the closer they draw to these harmonies, the more easily they slip into the spiritual rhythms of divine Love's healing message, regardless of human circumstances.
There is much to learn from the principles of music – collaboration in performance, harmony out of blended differences, and timing and rhythm, along with careful listening and rests. When respected and made practical in everyday lives, these qualities point to a higher source, a divine Principle, which can be viewed as a helpful synonym for God, the source of all art and grace-filled living.
The 2009 Proms will leave concertgoers and radio listeners in many lands "singing and soaring" with the deepest appreciation – convinced that artistic expression comes in countless forms, and truly belongs to everyone.
The Last Night of the Proms can be heard on the BBC website at 2:30 p.m. EDT on Saturday, Sept. 12.