The Food of Love – Music and Theology
(A review by John Davies – 19 10 2018)
A lecture given by the Reverend Richard King to the Lincoln Theological Society.
This had started before it began. As we arrived, Richard King (on tenor sax) and Colin Dudman on keyboard, were playing jazz – among other well-known tunes I recognised Take Five. Many of the audience, some of them musicians, talked through this, which I thought a pity. Yet, later, our
lecturer, a distinguished classical musician and more recently a jazzman (tenor and soprano), inveighed against the Victorian invention of the concert hall, designed, he felt, to suppress noise and fidgeting during performance, and to exclude the common people both by its demands for haut bourgeois behaviour and its rejection of folk styles of singing and making music.
But to begin at the beginning. The distinguished trio, Richard King, bassoonist, the clarinetist Martin Burrell and jazz pianist Colin Dudman were introduced by the Reverend Jeffrey Heskins. Richard and Martin were at the Royal College of Music together. Both subsequently had careers in major orchestras and also formed with others the Elysian Wind Quintet. Both were later ordained, leaving behind their lives as professional musicians. If Colin Dudman is a jazz musician, he is a musician first, beyond genre. During the evening he
played, at Richard’s request, Bach’s fugue in E minor from Book 1 of The Well Tempered Clavier.
He is also known for his scholarly and performing knowledge of 20th century avant-garde music.
He is a supreme accompanist as well as a soloist.
Richard King was the principal speaker. He began with a brief outline of the origins of music in the history of very early humans, proved by the discovery of ancient instruments. From evidence in Mesopotamia, music was always theological, involved with worship of the gods. More widely
(Richard cited Pythagoras among others), it demonstrated the harmony of the universe. His account of the genesis and development of harmony and scale was technical – but he moved to the assertion that the unresolved, the unresolvable, that which escaped the rules (I think that’s
what he said) was essential, was of life itself.
Improvisation and the uniqueness of each note, each performance, the transitoriness of these, mirrored the transitory nature of human life. And music, he emphasised, is physical, bodily, like the Incarnation of Christ.
So, order, neatness even, yet overspilling inspired sound – “you take the instrument into your body” he said. Thus music affirms, whether it knows it or not, models of the creation, the Incarnation, the ongoing processes of being, both finite and infinite. At least I think that’s what he
said. His colleague Martin Burrell spoke of his search for the pure sound on the clarinet, illustrating it briefly. Colin was asked to improvise without a preceding tune or theme. He did so in masterly fashion.
This was not so much a lecture, though it contained narratives of music’s possible pre-history, and early, mediaeval, enlightenment and post enlightenment theory, as a series of aphorisms, often highly poetic and largely theological. It was exciting to listen to – who would have thought,
as Richard suggested, that Gregorian Chant had its origins in singing in tongues and that the church clamped down on chant, regulating it and designating where and how it could be used.
For Richard and his companions music is not “used” but is integral and essential to being human in this world and the next. It witnesses to the Creator, His/Her creation, to the Trinity, to the Incarnation and the dance of things. As Richard pointed out, CS Lewis’s Aslan sings the universe
into being (The Magician’s Nephew).
What didn’t he say? There was little or nothing about singing or stringed instruments. Nor would he define what he meant by bad music. I thought he was too kind, or too general, about pop music which I find to be very often parasitic on folk, jazz, blues, hip-hop, classical and other
authentic modes. Yet here too human creativity sometimes breaks through.
And what about war music, the drums, the trumpets, the bands which send people to kill each other? There can, too, be evil lyrics – (he did not have time to talk about words and music). Do these infect tunes? What about the Horst Wessel song or Dixie?
It was a very stimulating evening, it left us much to think about, including the struggle between orderly exposition and freedom, but also music’s capacity to communicate at the deepest level, as a model or type of prayer beyond words. Thus music might be apophatic and cataphatic at the same time.
This was the last lecture in this series, appropriately a swan song. Many thanks are due to our range of excellent speakers and to Wendy Lloyd, Michael Newstead, Jeffrey Heskins, Mark Hocknull, and Peter Neil who have served on the LTS Steering Group over the years helping to enrich our lives.