Music has a power that, if recognized, can seize you and take you places you never dreamed existed. This I believe. I experienced it firsthand when I was on vacation in Belgium.
It was my first trip to Europe. My parents had always loved old churches, and this was certainly an old church. There were huge graves in the floor, whose gravestones had inscriptions that you could read as you walked over them. The ceiling was so high I couldn’t estimate it, and the windows let in a singularly holy light. Huge pillars of tan-ish white stone supported the whole place, along with the flying buttresses outside.
As amazing and awe-inspiring as all this was, it paled miserably in comparison to the pipe organ. I had to take six pictures to capture the size. It was mounted on a wall; the largest pipes were disconnected from the center, where the organist played, and the smallest were above his head, protruding horizontally from the rest of the contraption. And what a beautiful contraption, flaunting warm, smooth wood that encased enormous masses of silver pipes, and the sounds that emitted from those pipes!
We were so lucky to have been there when we were. Had we come any other time, we would’ve missed the masterful performance of the instrument, –a mere coincidence that the organist was practicing when he was. If the very light streaming through the windows was holy, then the music emitting from the organ must have been the earthly representation of God.
The cathedral’s architects must have planned out the acoustics in painstaking detail: the notes echoed, infiltrating every nook, every cranny, every immense hall of the building. It reverberated so that you could hear not only the note being played, the eight notes in one second, but also the twenty notes of the last three seconds, and sometimes the next eight notes as well.
The music did more than drown me –it incapacitated me. I lost myself to the multilayered, unilingual melodies and countermelodies. I wandered, as if in a deep trance, to a chair opposite the organ, and lowered myself into it like a hypnotized person. The hypnotist, the music, commanded me to listen, and it carried an authority that dominated my attention. It was such a timeless feeling that if the sun had set and risen, I could have sat there for days, unmoving, as he played, but it felt, at the same time, like I had only been sitting for a few elongated seconds before my parents beckoned me to leave. And I tried to leave. We actually went out the doors. But they had noticed how I had loved the music, and took me back in to let me choose a CD of organ music played on that very instrument. So even if I never return to that organ, to Saint Michael’s, to Brussels, to Belgium, I can be there in mind and in spirit by simply listening it into existence.
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