The Orbit of the Sublime

Recently my friend Carrie sent me something powerful, written by a nun, Sister Joan Chittister: “I have a parrot who does not sing. . . She screams for whatever she needs—But when I sing to her, or play music for her, she stands stark still and listens without making a sound. She just perches there. Almost breathless. Almost frozen. It’s totally out of character—and totally understandable—at the same time.

I watched her over and over again and then I got it: I do the same thing myself.

This felt like really beautiful and interesting timing.

While Pat and I were locked in together at home (because all his tours cancelled) we decided to make a record. We were just finishing what’s called ‘mastering’ and needed to check how the songs flowed together, so he would put the songs in different orders he thought might work and download the files to his phone. Then we’d go for a long drive through the hill country and listen to it on his car’s good speakers. Yesterday we did it twice, and the day before, twice.

Yesterday’s last drive back home happened to coincide with the setting sun and the most astounding orange sky. It felt like we were in a bubble, far removed from anything earthly or mundane.

Music. Exactly like Sister Chittister described it in her post: “It gives us balm. It touches our souls. It saves us from the straggle and cacophony of the world. It takes our noisy, crowded lives and quiets us in the orbit of the sublime.“

Quiets us in the orbit of the sublime—a poetic way to describe what happens to us when we listen to music.

Every living thing responds to music. I’ve seen photos of elephants rocking back and forth while a lone pianist serenades them, cows ambling across a meadow to a trio with violins playing Brahms next to their fence. I’ve seen excited macaques monkeys crawling all over a musician in a temple in Thailand.

There’s even a clear difference in the growth habits of plants having only silence in their environments or music. Plants prefer music, especially soft classical. The number of leaves increases, the number of flowers increases and seeds sprout faster.

Music is a true time machine—nothing can take you back to a moment in your life like a beloved piece of music. During this Covid shutdown, we have had no live music, no concerts, no jazz combos in dark clubs. But I know many, many musicians producing some stellar music in their quarantine, in their home studios.

This is why I know years from now, when we are looking at this virus thing in our rear view mirror, we will revel in the luscious abundance of music produced in 2020. This will be our silver lining. “Indeed, music is where the soul goes to put into notes what cannot be said in words.”

Tell it, Sister.

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