MANY THE MUSICAL INSPIRATIONS that bowl me over. But few that I return to as frequently as to Dame Evelyn Glennie’s “teaching the world to listen”. Here is passion, here is excellence, here is an invitation to take notice … every day. There’s Gospel in here, not least because Dame Evelyn “hears” the beat, the rhythm, the soaring melodies of life (in a New York subway train clattering over a bridge, in street sirens, in a crowd of people on the move, for example) though she is profoundly deaf.
Would that I were able to take delighted notice of the music of life every day. I try, of course – that’s what prayer’s about: taking notice – of breath, of strength, of weakness, of vulnerability, of faith, of hope, of love, of joy, of gladness, of badness and sadness, of sounds and of silence, of the “still, small voice of calm”. And yet I know that my life would be immeasurably changed for the better if I didn’t constantly forget the reasoned reminder of Jesus: “he who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
There’s a balance to be struck between listening to our own inner voice and the wisdom and direction of the voices around us – what the Church might usefully call “body language” or “collaborative living” (a fuller extension of the more usual “collaborative ministry”). When my parish was looking for a new parish priest the Profile that the Parochial Church Council and other parish representatives drew up requested of the bishop a priest who would function like the conductor of an orchestra – not trying to play every instrument him / herself but, rather, noticing the music that emanated from the lives of those around him / her and encouraging a bringing together of these voices, encouraging harmony, encouraging what I myself think of as a kind of musical Shalom. And that’s a vision that has always spoken to my soul. Benjamin Zander, the charismatic conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, writes and speaks with passion of how fundamentally necessary it is for an individual player to listen out for the “voices” around her – in order to have a proper sense of the direction of a piece, of its life.
So we need breathing space. Listening space. Attention giving space. And we have to practice night and day. Dame Evelyn draws our attention to the spaces between sounds and she shows us that it’s possible to believe both in the music of life, and in the spaces, and in ourselves. Dame Evelyn’s vibrant life and example gives me courage and hope; she is living embodiment of what one of our more glorious Common Worship Eucharistic prefaces fabulously calls “the silent music of [God’s] praise”; with the breath of God in her, with divine rhythm, she inspires. I aspire.
See also: Teaching the world to listen