On Sunday, after attending sacrament meeting at the Newport Hills Ward, my wife and I and our friends drove to the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, where we participated in a sing-along program of Handel’s Messiah.
Every time I hear the oratorio, and perhaps most of all when I try to sing it or to sing along with it, I’m stunned once again by its genius.
On composing the great “Hallelujah Chorus” from Messiah, Handel is said to have commented, echoing the apostle Paul’s language in 2 Corinthians 12:1-4, that “”Whether I was in my body or out of my body as I wrote it I know not. God knows.”
With respect to his swift composition of the long and complex oratorio altogether — it was created in just 24 days — he is reported to have remarked that “I did think I did see all Heaven before me and the great God Himself.”
I’m not inclined to doubt him.
I’m put in mind, though, of a story that I may already have told here, or may not. Once, many years ago, an American couple who were, like us, members of the Cairo Branch of the Church invited us to drive out with them to the site of the great World War Two battle at El Alamein, along Egypt’s Mediterranean coast. It was shortly before Christmas.
We didn’t know them well, but it soon became clear that the wife absolutely hated living in Egypt. She hated everything about it. She hated Cairo. She hated Egyptian food, the people, the culture. She had never previously lived outside of a smallish town in the American South, and she never wanted to do it ever again. This went on, and on, and on, and I grew weary of it. Finally, she reached the subject of Middle Eastern music, which she also hated. It’s not really music at all, she told me.
I had had enough, so I meekly pointed out that the Arabic musical tradition grows out of Middle Eastern roots that go very far back in history.
She persisted. Arabic music is horrible, she said.
It being Christmas, I suggested that the music heard by the shepherds at Bethlehem must have made musical sense to them.
Well, she replied, Arabic music isn’t music; it’s just noise.
So I got rough: The angelic choruses heard by those first-century Palestinian shepherds probably sounded a great deal more like Umm Kulthum, I observed, or like Farid al-Atrash, than they did like Bach, or Handel, or “Silent Night.”
“Oh,” she said. “What a terrible thought!”
She was silent for several minutes thereafter, and I glowed inwardly with a sense of deep accomplishment.
And, finally, a potpourri of links to items related to Islam, Judaism, and/or the Middle East:
“This Week’s Torah Reading Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1 Through Genesis 25:18) Shows Us What Loyalty And Respect Are All About / One of the foundational stories of the Jewish people, the story of the Machpelah Cave teaches us the value of loyalty”
Posted from Newport Beach, California