3 Reasons that Music Concerts are Liturgical Acts

August 3, 2016

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I’ve been to a number of music concerts over the years — rock, classical, jazz, country, sacred — and have always found them to be powerful experiences that leave lasting effects. A number of years ago, I wrote an amateur paper on the similarities between liturgy and music concerts. I’ll share with you here a few simple thoughts from that paper.

To make it a little more lively, less theoretical, I will steal some illustrative quotes from a dear friend of my daughter Maria, named Sydney, who wrote some wonderful and raw reflections on her experience of a Twenty One Pilots concert she, Maria and some friends went to in early July out in Woodlands, Texas. Sydney is a lovely, ebullient and smart young lady who has a beautiful faith and a heart for the homeless. She and her friends all go to Mount Carmel Academy, so today I give a special shout out to all the MCA Cubs on this feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel!

I used three words to organize my reflections in the paper: community, transcendence and transformation.

Community

Liturgy (in the most general sense) is meant to be an experience of binding, of being joined to God and the community of saints, along with the gathered faithful in an intimate experience of worship and encounter. Those who enter into the liturgical act are joined, in all their wild diversity, by a common faith, hope and love; by the harmony of words, music and gestures; and by symbols that express a common identity. Worshipers are united around a “celebrant,” the presider who embodies, mediates and gives voice to a unifying center: the drama of God saving us in Christ. Around the celebrant, who is a sacramental sign of Christ, all are made one. Good liturgy should leave people feeling more fully joined to God and to the community of faith. It should ground and solidify their sense of identity as they depart out the church doors into a fragmented world.

The music concert, from the Latin verb concertare, “bring into agreement,” is also an experience of binding, of being joined with fellow concert goers (“fans”) in the power and beauty and energy of music and its message. Fans, like the faithful, have given something of themselves over to the musical culture created by the musicians, as they find it both expresses and gives shape to their own experience and understanding of life. The performers, who become “larger than life” as they celebrate the musical event, embody, mediate and give voice to music’s transcendent and unifying power. Good performers make you sense they understand your world personally and intimately, and by their authenticity, allow you into their world. The musical concert becomes a form of communion and gives those who may feel alone in the world a sense of belonging.

After what felt like hours of anxious waiting, the screens on the sides of the stage that showed ads clicked off, and the screams from the adoring and dedicated fans amplified. We could see a shadow of a figure lying on the ground on the stage, which we had reason to believe was Tyler. He was reaching his hand out to the audience, almost as if he wished we were experiencing what he was experiencing. The dark shadow of his hand diminished gradually, and all I wanted was for it to return. Not even 30 seconds later, the arm’s shadow returned. It was once again reaching out to the audience. He stood up and walked away, leaving me wanting a lot more than an arm.

Transcendence

Liturgy is meant to take us “beyond” ourselves, to lift us from our self-contained isolation out into an expansive world revealed to the faithful by faith and longed for by hope. In liturgy we are lifted up into the “heavenly” world of a God who is both infinitely beyond us and radically near to us, and who loves us and desires our love. We are also drawn out of ourselves in liturgy into the “earthly” world of a universal church, a community of faithful who share our search for God’s FarNear divine love. Liturgy unites heaven and earth, reconciles us to one another and is ecstatic, from the Greek ek-stasis, to “stand outside oneself.” Liturgy pulls us out of the flat dimensions of the mundane, pokes holes in our low ceilings and empowers us to re-see ordinary life in the light of transcendent realities encountered in the celebration of the liturgy. Liturgy awakens in us awe and amazement.

The music concert also takes us beyond ourselves into an ecstatic experience, as performers use their music to sweep us up and out into a vast world of transcendent beauty and impassioned meaning. Performers, and their art, appear before us on stage as multidimensional symbols proclaiming transcendent truths and enacting dramatic and paradoxical tensions, appearing before us as larger-than-life and at once very near to us. The sounds and lyrics, the choreography and visual effects, the costumes and facial expressions of the performers all combine to draw fans out of themselves and into a new world of imagination and meaning created and revealed by their art. It is in these dizzying tensions that pulse between the Far and the Near, the familiar and the strange, that the concert’s greatest power lies; a power that disposes fans to receive the music’s transformative power.

…we sat in our seats in the pavilion in Woodlands, Texas, which were in the middle area of the back section, but they weren’t totally in the back because there were people on the lawn behind us. There were two opening bands who were very unique and cool sounding. tøp [twenty one pilots] was set to start at 8:45 PM, so we were all waiting in anticipation for that moment to come. After the opening bands, very ominous music was playing, making my anxiety rise even higher. There was an intense red light, which lit up an entire piece of cloth that was shielding what the crew was doing onstage to set up for twenty one pilots. Either Swan or Nina realized that there was a mini stage with a piano and drums about 25 feet in front of us. I was in complete shock/awe that Josh Dun and Tyler Joseph would be that close to me and my friends who have been loving them for so long.

…One of the most memorable moments, although there were plenty, was when the self-titled album medley was performed. I would say the stage they performed the medley and “Ode To Sleep” on was about was about 20-25 feet from us. It was something I had only pictured happening in my dreams, and it was happening right there, 20 feet in front of me. Through all the sweat from the 90º+ heat, I managed to have the best experience possible.

Transformation

Every liturgy should leave one’s perception of reality changed, adjusted more nearly to the vision of faith revealed and enacted in the liturgical celebration. Every aspect of liturgy, from Word and song to ritual gestures and vestments, should dispose the worshiper to the experience of a deeper communion with God and the faithful; to receive the dynamic and incarnate grace of God made present to all those gathered in the celebration. Liturgy should leave you thinking and feeling differently about everything (the meaning of metanoia/conversion), in a way that leads to a reformation of your way of life to one in closer conformity to the vision of faith.

Music possesses an unparalleled ability to open up, enter and shape both mind and heart, to stir up inner regions of deep feeling and inspire the loftiest of sentiments. For good or for ill, music gives expression, interprets and reveals the human experience of reality in a manner that surpasses mere words or ideas. Music can take words and ideas and confer on them a staggering power to journey deep into the inner self, drenching emotions and imagination, and planting its contents firmly into the identity-bearing memory. During a music concert, the senses are saturated with a diverse array of sights and sounds, smells and vibrations, which amplify the music’s power to influence devoted fans who believe these performers offer to them something true, beautiful and good.

…During the self-titled album medley, they were performing “Addict With A Pen,” and one of the lines in the song is “you hear me screaming father,” and on the word “father,” Tyler looked up instinctively, like he is used to looking up when speaking to the Lord. Writing this is giving me chills, and I certainly had chills, mixed with my sweat and tears at the concert.

…This band never ceases to amaze me. The last best part of the concert, although the whole thing was amazing, was when Tyler climbed up on a ladder that was in the middle of the pavilion and stood on a platform to perform “Car Radio.” He did this for maybe the whole second half of the song. He was once again extremely close to us, and I spoke/sang every lyric of that song with such purpose because it was the first song I ever heard by them in the summer of 2014, and it quickly became my favorite. The performance of every song was everything I have ever imagined and more.

This is why I so clearly appreciate Twenty One Pilots, as they offer a contemporary art form that gives those who have ears to hear the opportunity to be united in a quest for the FarNear and transformed by a message of hope.

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