Monday, July 11, 2011

O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing!

Music is the universal language of mankind
--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

It’s hard to separate music and linguistics.

So we don’t.

Wander past the SIL department offices and you’ll hear strains of a violin concerto drifting through a doorjam or a trumpet running through scales in the dorms. Sometimes there is even a chamber orchestra (though flutes might have to read off the viola’s music). Drop in Smith 40 on Sunday afternoons at 4 pm, and you’ll find tenors and altos re-arranging their seating, while  basses hum their melody and a soprano or two pencils notes on this week’s choir music. We’re a linguistic choir, to be precise—after all, where else are you reminded about how certain high-frequency articulations (such as plosives, but not sibilants) are lost when heard at a distance?

Chapel begins daily with a song before the speaker, but the Friday slot is reserved entirely for music—a vast array of styles and instruments, thanks to our international audience (including both hearing and deaf). Words I don’t know how to pronounce? No problem! The IPA works its way into music, and sometimes songs are merely glossed rather than translated smoothly (following good linguistic analysis). Random worship sessions curl into corners whenever the need arises, and the stairways are perfect for four-part harmony.

And then, there is my favorite—the Saturday night hymn sing. For three hours, a gathering of brothers and sisters, perhaps reaching 30 or more, cluster in a room by the stairwell and worship a capella through the words of the generations before us. One song ends and another number is called out; someone hums the starting note and a chorus worthy of a cathedral erupts in lusty joy. Windows open, and passersby pause as the swell of voices harmonize and modulate, escaping to the outside and down the sidewalk. Joyful, joyful we adore Thee! More people crowd in until only the floor and tables are left…and then they fill. Fans are started, and hearts shout out favorite hymns until we know the page numbers so well that we cry out in anticipation when we hear 77 or 283! Prayer requests are shared, tears are shed, and we sing to soothe our souls. It’s a place to be refreshed and encouraged after a long week of classes, and to help us refocus as to why we are here.

Music is indeed a language of the heart.

The other week, I was blessed with the gift of an iPod, and I, in all my technological expertise :), am just starting to explore it. However as I contemplate its possibilities, I have come to a rather surprising realization—I don’t own any Christian music! It’s not that I don’t listen to and treasure it; on the contrary, music has always been a significant part of my life, and I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t present in our home. But, when it comes to owning albums of Christian music, I’ve somehow opted for other sources.

Somehow, I have an inkling that Pandora won’t cut it in PNG, and I doubt KTIS’s radio signal will reach across the Pacific. So, I turn to you, my trusty friends. If “music is love in search of a word” (Sidney Lanier), then where are you searching to find good, inexpensive or free (but legal!) Christian music?