October 19, 2017

Music Monday: October 17, 2016

knopfler

Note from CM: Another of my favorite “autumnal” albums is Mark Knopfler’s Get Lucky. But rather than write about Mark myself today, I found this 2013 piece by our friend Rob Grayson that gives a good report of what it’s like to see this remarkable singer/songwriter in concert. Beyond that, it is an encouraging reminder of how God inhabits beauty and craftsmanship and enables us to participate in his presence through the gifts of creation. Enjoy.

Rob blogs at Faith Meets World.

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Music Monday: Finding God at a rock concert
By Rob Grayson

Earlier this year, my wife and I went to see one my favourite musicians, guitarist extraordinaire and singer-songwriter Mark Knopfler, in concert at the LG Arena, a large indoor venue near Birmingham. (You can read my review of his most recent album Privateering here.) It was the second time I’d seen Knopfler live, the first time being some ten years earlier at the same venue.

There was no support act, so once we’d been our seats half an hour or so, an announcer came on and introduced Knopfler and his band.

Now, I’ve been to gigs before where the band and the material were good but the sound was poor, or where the performers just didn’t seem quite on form, or where it was difficult to see. But this time, everything was just right: our seats were in a pretty good position, up high to once side of the stage with a commanding view of the whole band; the sound was excellent; and here we were to watch and listen to one of the world’s great guitarists. The atmosphere was charged with anticipation, and from the very first note that was played, I knew this was going to something special.

What we were served that evening was a two-hour musical feast. Any one of the six or seven musicians in Knopfler’s band was probably good enough to hold an audience’s attention on their own. Combine their skill and creativity with Knopfler’s sheer virtuosity and the quality of the material they were performing, and the result was electric.

There wasn’t a moment I didn’t enjoy, but there was one particular moment that sticks in my memory. During one song, each of the musicians, including Knopfler, gradually dropped out one after the other until the only ones still playing were a double bass player and a fiddle player. The lights faded so that all eyes were on these two, bathed in the light of a single spotlight. They proceeded to improvise for about eight minutes (I made a point of noticing the time), each riffing off the other and neither dropping a beat. You could just see Knopfler in the edge of the spotlight, a faint smile on his face as he watched his two colleagues with rapt attention. Such was the intensity of the moment that it felt as though every one of the eight thousand or so people in the audience were sat on the edge of their seats. Apart from the sound of the music, you could have heard a pin drop. It was utterly mesmerising, and I was almost afraid to breathe for fear the spell would be broken.

But beyond the technical and musical prowess of Knopfler and his band, I found that the whole thing moved me in a most unexpected way. This might sound odd, but I’m hoping you’ll understand what I mean: I found it was actually a deeply spiritual experience. I don’t mean I was transported to some realm of ecstasy; in fact, it’s quite hard to describe just what I do mean. All I can say is that a moment came when I suddenly realised that I felt closer to God in that arena than I had at any other time for quite a while.

Maybe it was partly because music is such a dominant language for me, a language that speaks to something deep inside me. But I think there was also something else happening in that room. Knopfler is a secular musician, and there was nothing explicitly religious about the songs he performed. But there was such truth and beauty on display: here was a group of guys creating art that was a celebration of nature, humanity and the rich tapestry of life in all its glory and messiness. And this was a powerful example of something I’ve recently come to believe, or rather to realise: where you find beauty and truth, there you also find God.

It might be at a rock concert or a classical music recital; it might be in a museum or an art gallery; it might be while watching a film that in some way captures the exquisite reality of life on this celestial sphere; it might be while taking a walk as the sun goes down, releasing its fiery colours to bleed across the dusking sky. It might even be an evening spent with good friends, with no other agenda than to enjoy one another’s company and share a brief moment of life together. In all these places and in all these ways, I believe God revels in the beauty and the variety of His creation, and if you look hard enough, you’ll find Him there.

It didn’t matter that most of the people at that Knopfler concert were probably complete pagans; it didn’t matter that it was a “secular” concert and that the band was not playing “Christian” songs (whatever that means). God was still there. I’m convinced that, as the band revelled in the joy of shared creation and the audience looked on spellbound, God was there too, taking it all in, smiling, with a twinkle in His eye, maybe even tapping a foot from time to time. I think He really enjoyed that gig.

Comments

  1. senecagriggs says:
    • Oh, yes. “Private Dancer” shows how he can emphasize with even someone such as that, and create a song to convey the emotion.

  2. My wife has been practicing music she’ll be playing as accompanist for a singer who will be performing a program of songs from famous Broadway musicals. One of the songs is “Somewhere”, from the musical West Side Story. I find that this brilliant and beautiful song, the music alone without lyrics, has a visceral affect on me; the tragic world it evokes touches me in a painfully vulnerable place, almost overpowering, to the point that I have to deliberately raise inner barriers to fully taking it in. I find myself turning away from its full power, for my own inner well-being. In my experience, music not infrequently has this power over me, to touch me at my emotional center, for good, and sometimes for ill.

    The fact that music has such affective power over me makes me wary of finding my religion in it. Many the time when I felt overwhelmed and transported by the seemingly transcendent power of music, lost in the throes of hopes and fears, pleasures and pains, raised by it, only to find myself falling fast back down to earth after the last strains had died away, or the fresh memory of it became old. I’ve found that affectivity does not equal transcendence, or being in touch with God, in my case; it may be a part of that, but it’s not enough to sustain me.

    • I guess we all differ in our emotional responses to music, Robert. I certainly recognise some of what you describe here as part of my own experience with music, but for myself I’ve found that experience to be an overwhelmingly positive thing. Maybe that’s partly because, as I’ve recently been discovering on my own interior journey, I’ve spent many years detaching and dissociating from difficult emotions. Thus, music that helps me feel and ‘own’ such feelings is a help.

    • Dana Ames says:

      Robert F,

      I think that is my favorite of Bernstein’s songs. I could tell you from a compositional analysis standpoint why it works the way it does; that actually adds to my personal enjoyment of it because I see the path of the creativity in the harmony and melodic line. I can examine the parts, and then put it all back together and experience the whole. Of course that is not needed in order to connect with what it evokes.

      Good for your wife for continuing to make music.

      Best-
      Dana

      • I think the song is brilliant. From the beginning, there is a dissonant (is that the right term?) line that runs through it as it builds its melody; my understanding is that this dissonant line moves the song to its tragic conclusion, because whatever hope the melody line (and the lyric) develops is ruined on the rocky shoals of that dissonance, which at the end crests into a capsizing wave.

        • Dana Ames says:

          From the beginning, the melody and harmony (mostly the harmony) work together to keep the music from resolving, by using the dominant 7th, the seventh of the tonic chord, and the subdominant 4th chords. (If we were sitting at a piano I could demonstrate…) This is augmented by harmonic “false endings”, the cascading melodic lines throughout, and the middle section beginning with a minor chord and tapering off with “Somewhere…” in the wistful 5th of the 5th chord. The last repetition of the theme ends with the melody in the high range, with the rhythm doing its wave thing underneath. The dissonance is what happens at the end with the low orchestral notes tragically opposing the hopeful melodic heights.

          You’re right – it is brilliant. It’s a shame LB didn’t get to compose more. I don’t care for all his music, but he was an excellent composer, that’s for sure.

          D.

  3. Thanks Rob. Always appreciate your perspective. Music is often a ‘grounding’ experience that links at a transrational level of awareness to our emotional state at the time. Then, we hear the same music and suddenly it triggers the linked emotions. Those links can last a lifetime or they can be transformed by alternate grounding experiences.

    • Very true, Paul. A recent example for me: a week or so ago I attended Evensong at King’s College Chapel, Cambridge. Now, it’s no secret that I love old churches and am a fan of liturgical worship. Even so, I was taken aback by the immediate emotional response I felt as soon as the unaccompanied choir began to sing; it really hit me in the gut and I felt tears begin to rise almost immediately. This was not sadness; it was a deep emotional connection with a part of my past that has perhaps lain dormant for decades.

      • Patrick Kyle says:

        Had a similar experience years ago. Went to hear Anonymous 4 at a Greek Orthodox church singing the Mass for 1000 A.D. The sound was so pure that the air almost seemed more clear, and I immediately started to weep. The entire audience was holding their breath. Not being a musician, and really only having limited musical understanding, I was stunned by the effect. It was truly something special.

  4. In recent years I have had issues with “Christian music” I have gone through a foundation shift and I question the lyrics and content a bit now. I have found a freedom in listening to other stuff. Mark Knopfler, Blues Traveler, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, and the likes. I have been able to have more contemplative moments and heart moments than one would expect.

    Rob Grayson brings out mine and many others thoughts on music out side the Christian streams and is spot on..

  5. Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs will always be my autumn album, with U2’s October coming close second.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4GLr2TffxGI

    • Stuart are you a fan of The War on Drugs? I’m just getting in to them. They’ve got that extra quality – that ability to take you to another place (or take me, at least) that U2 and Arcade Fire have.

      • Haven’t really listened to them much, I should check them out, thanks!

      • YES to War on Drugs! Here’s my fave of theirs…

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=23GdGEzZPvE

      • So The War on Drugs sounds like if you put 80s U2, Bruce Springsteen, The Cure, and something else I’m not quite sure of in a blender…

        Honestly, not quite feeling it. Not a fan of the vocal effect and the 80s-ish keyboard or synthesizer or whatever it is I’m hearing (working through Lost in the Dream)…I’ll keep at it for a bit longer.

        New Green Day album so far pretty good though.

  6. Rob’s description of this experience makes me wish I’d been there. Music can rivet the soul in unexpected ways and indeed be a very spiritual experience. I so agree with Rob that “…where you find beauty and truth, there you also find God.” Whoever/whatever God is to you…that voice of truth inside us all…He speaks to us through various ways, and music is also one of my love languages where I hear Him clearly and certainly feel His presence heavily at times. Sure, sometimes it might be emotion and hype, but surely God is in all things beautiful and true. And if we look for Him, we see Him. I’m grateful for people that hone and share their talents with the world like these men do, including Rob with his talent to write and depict an experience like this so clearly that we can almost go there in our minds. Blessings on you all.

  7. Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits…two of my favorite all-time musicians/groups. The thing that has always amazed me about Knopfler – well, beside his sly greatness on the guitar – is his song-writing. So many of his songs are stories put to music. The “Sailing to Philadelphia” album is one, in particular, that has always fascinated me.

  8. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Great reflections on the God found in beauty and truth regardless of form.

  9. jeff slinkard says:

    Having read this when it was written, I can say it was a pleasure to read it again. Because of this very article I went out and bought that album mentioned and have played “Redbud tree” over and over again. The guitar riff by Mark is one of those that keeps one loving music, or getting lost in its journey.

  10. Matthew Hebbert says:

    Spot on. If we are “image bearers,” part of that image is “creator.” I think this is why well-crafted music and art move us so deeply, and why many have an irrepressible creative urge (I would even venture to say everyone has that urge, though some never act on it). The same can be said for storytelling, another form of creation. God is a creator and a storyteller from Genesis 1:1 onward. Jesus preferred teaching by telling stories. It’s in us!

  11. Angie Tinnion says:

    Great article Rob – I wish I’d been there but I totally agree that if we look we will find God everywhere and in everything that is beautiful ( and also in the mess and ugliness of life)

  12. Burro [Mule] says:

    I’m going keep posting these guys on Music Monday until somebody besides me gets them. They are making some of the best music on the planet, and they have been going from strength to strength since The Difference Engine

    Big Big Train – Chaos Flees Before Beauty.

    They kind of pick up where Gabriel-era Genesis dropped off, by way of Iona . They have never come to the USA. Please pray they do.

    • These could be a grower… just listening to some of their stuff on YouTube. I think I could like them if I can get beyond noticing all the stolen Genesis riffs! Excellent vocals – he could almost be Peter Gabriel if you close your eyes. Thanks for sharing that Burro – always good to discover something new.

  13. James Sharp says:

    Nice one rob. Agree that where you find anything good, beauty, truth, creativity, friendship, there is God also. I’ll try MK’s new album too!

  14. Since rock music is no longer the Devil’s Music like it was when I was a kid then what’s the Devil listening to now?

    Just wondering…

  15. Wendy Francisco says:

    Because I am a writer of music, I get this. God is omnipresent, throughout all creation, reflected in everything we see and hear. I mostly write God songs, but I hear God in music of all kinds. It is wonderful when the religious separatist box begins to disintegrate, and we find joy and inspiration in humanity and the world again.

  16. Paul Brauen says:

    All of creation is one big song that’s why music has the capacity to touch us humans to our depths the way it does. So I am certain that Father is in the music and our enjoyment of music. Beauty in all aspects of life has always been a major point of conviction about the reality of a creator God for me.

  17. Totally get what you are saying. Love this.

  18. petrushka1611 says:

    I took my wife to see Knopfler in Chicago about this time last year, and my jaw was on the floor several times. I’ve been to some incredible concerts — Jason & the Scorchers, Los Lobos, Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Spoon, the Tannahill Weavers, Holy Ghost Tent Revival — but the musicianship of Knopfler and his band was beyond stunning.

  19. “…where you find beauty and truth, there you also find God.”

    Wherever… whenever… as long as you have eyes to see 🙂

  20. We saw Mark Knopfler a few years ago (Nov 2012?) where he was the opening act for Bob Dylan, who we had come to see. When Knopfler was finished, we wanted him to continue for another hour, even if that might’ve meant cutting back on Dylan’s set! I was not particularly a Dire Straits fan and did not know most of their songs, but I was mesmerized. (He might’ve done that same thing where he stepped out of the light and had his two bandmembers do all the playing.) I am a huge Bob Dylan fan, but I would have given up some of Bob for more of Mark that evening.

  21. Michael Jones says:

    Wonderful story. When I was in college, I had a roommate who was really into Pink Floyd. We (Christian group) actually considered it satanic and just by listening the melody, the sounds and the impressionist lyrics, the devil could enter your life. I slept in my jeep at night because he went to bed with PF playing. After I came over to this side of reality, I saw music (and all art forms) as the essence from humans created by a wonderful God and we reflect that creativity through our art. I started to enjoy all kinds of art for the first time. This summer I took my wife to a Pink Floyd (Brit Floyd) concert in Vancouver, BC. I lost myself in the music and came out sensing God was real, more than before the concert. It was a Peter on the roof and the sheet experience.

  22. Terry Chesterman says:

    Hi Rob. Loved your article. I have long been a Knopfler fan. So pleased it was a sacred moment for you.

  23. David Mosher says:

    Ah, yes…yes. 🙂 It’s not labeled *Christian* worship but in my mind who wouldn’t see or sense God at a Knopfler concert?! The musical love that flows into our ears and washes over us..it’s majesty. It’s creation revealing the creator, imo.