Last month, as I began to ponder what the subjects of my June columns might be, I noticed a tune playing in my head as I was taking my daily bike ride. I had no idea what it was until I intentionally put the words to it.
It reminded me of the gotcha game my daughter and I used to play – hum a tune in the other’s presence to see how long it was before she (or I) would be caught humming it, too.
The song playing in my mind that day was a hymn: “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” [Henry van Dyke, 1907]. The tune: Beethoven’s familiar “Hymn to Joy.” And it all came together – music, a theme for my articles, and how important it is in my life – in life in general – and maybe in yours, too?
My high school yearbook had a literary quote under each student’s photo. Along with many signers of my copy, who referenced my drumming, was this opening line from Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”: “If music be the food of love, play on!”
And that I did, off and on, throughout my life, even at one point officiating at weddings and finding myself announcing the entrance of the newlyweds at their reception from behind my drum set, playing in a band called “Revelation,” which got its start in the basement of our church!
Music, both sacred and secular, has a way fixing things … of taking us back, of lifting our spirits, of bringing us together, of triggering memories – mostly good ones – of the goodness and blessings we have enjoyed – of connecting us across the miles and years.
And even when the mood created is a sad one, the music has a way of transforming that sadness into joy.
Many were the days in high school I would enter the band room angry or upset. And leave, after an hour-and-a-half of beating on the timpani, with my emotions – often the issues themselves – resolved, relieved, ready to reconcile and heal.
Recognizing that tune in my head on my bike ride took me back to a very special relationship I had with a church organist who always seemed to be on the same page with me, as I could hear and feel her playing that long sustained deep “D” pedal under the third line of that hymn, “Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; Drive the gloom of doubt away; Giver of immortal gladness, Fill us with the light of day.”
My son, also a drummer, knows how good drumming is for us.
Recently, he bought me an electronic drum kit. It’s a pad, about a foot in diameter, with the capability of each quadrant being tuned to be a different percussion instrument – snare drum, cymbals, tom-tom, even with bass drum and hi-hat cymbal pedals – allowing me, with headset on, to play along with favorites from my music collection.
And one more: there were the street beats we would play – daughter, too (herself a professional brass musician) – pounding on the dinner table, waiting for dessert!
We’re all going to be together for a week this summer; we need to revive that one and impress the grandchildren!
Let music bring you joy, heal your hurts, raise your hopes, stir your memories, make you grateful. Let “joyful music lead us sunward in the triumph song of life!”
If you know that hymn, maybe later in the day you’ll find it playing in your head and heart.
If that happens … I gotcha!
Jim Graham is a retired Presbyterian minister.
This weekly column is provided to the News Journal on a monthly rotation basis by members of the Wilmington Area Ministerial Association.