I am a music teacher in an elementary school. At the end of the year, I invite those students who take music lessons to play informally for the class. The point for me is to bring the students’ out-of-classroom music-making into the classroom. Oftentimes the offerings are modest, beginning pieces, but I honor them all. The theme from the James Bond movie was popular this year and I must have heard Für Elise a dozen times. The students play their simple pieces, and the class gets to practice being an attentive audience. I offer this opportunity every year, but I don’t remember a moment of beauty entering my classroom through this activity until this June. Milton (of “Music is just spirit” fame) brought in his violin. He also brought in his composer/violinist father. The two of them together played a “Bourrée” by Handel. There was a note here and there that was out of tune, and Milton rushed one section, but there were moments that just grabbed my heart. I closed my eyes, and there, in that simple music classroom of 3rd graders, there was a moment of transcendent beauty.
How does this happen? Why does this happen? Why do these moments fill me with such joy? These moments can occur in the most surprising places. In fact, the surprise is part of the joy of the experience. This is not something that you can create with your will. It is something that just happens. From a few months ago I have a mental snapshot of 9-year-old Graham dancing across the classroom with such grace and abandon that my heart was seized. Something happened. Something that was connected with joy and spirit. There was another moment several weeks ago, as I was walking in the hills north of my home. I watched the wind move the grass like ocean waves and it brought me nearly to tears. Perhaps others have had similar experiences. It can happen in the formal setting of a music concert or in an art gallery, but it can also happen in the midst of the mundane events of life. I would call these experiences moments of beauty.
David is many things to many people. He is a gloriously handsome young man – I think all of us have to admit that. He is unaccountably full of a joy so large that it is infectious to anyone with access to YouTube. And when he sings, he gives us the opportunity for moments of beauty. That voice, that marvelous Voice, has the power to make us dance or to take us deep within ourselves. For me, it is the end of a phrase that can bring an added intensity. Those little melodic twists that he adds at the end of a note can make me literally cry out in surprise. They can grab my heart and even bring tears to my eyes. What is this? Why does this happen? How does it happen? Why are these moments so powerful?
Looking back at the scenes described above, the question might be: What, if anything, do they have in common? With the sound of a violin, the physical grace of a young boy, the rhythms of nature, or with the voice of David, what are the common threads? What is going on that has the power to affect us so strongly?
Perhaps one element is the purity of intent, the guilelessness of the actor. There is a lack of pretense and artifice that allows something else to emerge. Another element might be harmony, expressed in a variety of ways, that is active here. There were ascending parallel thirds on those two violins that resonated in my bones. There was an effortless grace when Graham was dancing that spoke of an unfettered harmony of body and mind and spirit. The gently rolling waves of grass on that hillside coaxed me back into harmony with the breath and rhythm of the natural world.
And so it is with David, the artist. When he sings “You Can,” for example, and goes to that place that he goes to when he sings, he is in a place of pure intent. No artifice here, just pure sound and soul. There are no layers of posturing, or obscuration because of fear or anxiety. His voice comes from a pure, unfiltered place that we can feel more than understand. He sings from his heart and somehow, mysteriously, his voice can resonate harmoniously in our own hearts. His mind and craft are of course also at work here. As the song unfolds, he finds new ways to recreate the melody. Perhaps he feels afresh the emotions of the song, and he adds those change-ups that can make us hear the song as if for the first time. He creates moments of beauty, moments of connection.
What others of us have had these same experiences? In what other places have they occurred? Has David been the catalyst or have they occurred among the everyday events of our lives? Who among us has had one of those moments that surprises us and takes us beyond ourselves? Who among us has had a moment of beauty?