“And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying,
‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord.
For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
(Jeremiah 31:34, ESV)
I have always loved music. I was raised in a house of music. My dad played classical violin, my brother the French Horn, I even dabbled in “Bassonery” for a while – though my first love was vocal music. As a kid, I despised classical music, but only as a form of rebellion against the things my dad liked. Now, I love it. I’ll pretty much listen to any kind of music, Classical, Rock/Pop, Country, Bluegrass, and even Irish Folk. The only kind of music I won’t willingly listen to is that which sounds more like noise pollution than any recognizable musical form – that which makes the office windows shake when the car stops out on the street – that which is more techno-auto tune than real performance – and that which is just plain offensive and purposely vulgar.
As of late I’ve been on a bit of a Jazz kick. I’ve never played Jazz, it wasn’t a big part of my growing up. It wasn’t until much later that my dad and I began to talk about our mutual love for Jazz – centered mostly around Dave Brubeck and my trying to come to grips with the wildly impossible time signatures of “Blue Rondo ala Turk” and “Take 5.” Dad was a big Henry Mancini fan too, I suppose that helped.
I think Mr. Rogers had a big part to do with my love for Jazz as well. I still get drawn to the show. I used to watch it for the interviews, the fun “field trips” Mr. Rogers would take us on, and just to get the daily affirmation from someone who thought I was special. Now, I watch it so that I can hear the really cool music. Johnny Costa was the music director for Mr. Rogers’ show for thirty years, and insisted on playing Jazz, arguing that children would be attracted to good music. He was right.
One of the things I’ve really come to appreciate about Jazz music is its freedom of expression. If you give 4 jazz artists one piece of music, you will hear 4 unique expressions of the music. It’s not a disregard for the music, but an expression of what that music means to the artist and what the artist wants you to come away with from the song. There will be common recognizable elements in each expression, variations on a theme, but each distinctive in its own way. (Which, when you think about it, is a lot like the way we got our four Gospels.)
As spontaneous and free as Jazz is, you still cannot ignore the rules of music. Rather, only when you know how and why music works can you find the great freedom of expression and individuality of Jazz music. It may seem chaotic – but in every good Jazz song there emerges a beautiful melody that both surprising and familiar.
I was thinking about this (Jazz’s freedom within the constraints of musical form) while listening to Wynton Marsalis last night, while I was also reading St. John Chrysostom’s Homilies on 1 Timothy (admittedly, probably not giving as much attention to the reading as it deserved). I came across the following:
What is [the proper use of God’s law]? The law, if thou use it aright, sends thee to Christ. For since its aim is to justify man, and it fails to effect this, it remits us to Him who can do so. Another way again of using the law lawfully, [when] he uses the law lawfully, who governs himself, though not as constrained by the letter of it. He uses the law lawfully who is conscious that he does not need it, for he who is already so virtuous that he fulfills it not from fear of it, but from a principle of virtue, uses it lawfully and safely. For he keeps it in a much higher degree, who fulfills it not from fear, but from a virtuous inclination…
That sounds like Jazz to me. The Jazz musician doesn’t need anyone to tell him what works or doesn’t work, he knows the music intimately. He knows the theme, the melody, and how to embellish upon the melody without obscuring it. He needs not fear offending musically, because he knows rules, he plays within them, and he uses them to make the music even better.
Is it not the same in the Christian life? When you are living in fellowship with God’s Holy Spirit, attending to God’s Word, trusting in the grace, mercy, and love of Jesus Christ, are you not freed from the slavish fear of the law? Are you not, rather, filled with the Spirit who produces “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; against these things there is no law” (Gal. 5:22-23). Your life is so guided by God’s word, so transformed by God’s Spirit, so inspired and filled with Christ’s love, that you are not constrained by the letter of the law, but free to live for the glory of God in freedom and joy.
Christian, enjoy the freedom that has come through Christ, who has fulfilled the law on your behalf, written the law upon your heart, and filled you with His Spirit that you may live for God’s glory. Take the song He has given you, and in the law of the Spirit of life, make beautiful music to the Lord. I bet you’ll sound a lot like Jazz.