The Weeping Piano

I have always loved piano music. Played well, many instruments can echo a wide range of emotion, but there’s just something about the sound of a piano. Particularly when it comes to sad music. For centuries composers have poured their heartaches into a piano, and in turn, pianists pour them all back out in the beautiful sounds that cascade from their fingers, often infused with their own regrets or hardships.

Victor Hugo said “Music expresses that which cannot be said, and on which it is impossible to be silent.” Others have said that music is emotion made into sound. With instrumental music, it is wonderful that although we can know a specific intent for the emotional expression of a piece, its power is not limited to that intent. Even though Puccini wrote the “Crisantemi” overnight in 1890 as a response to the death of the Duke of Savoy, I can sit here in 2014 and hear the sound of my own troubles.

Sometimes I might hear the melancholy of a whole nation in a piece written by one of their citizens, even if they weren’t trying to speak it. I don’t mean to sound melodramatic, I just mean that when listening to certain pieces by Rachmaninoff I can hear grief for lost countrymen in war, or the incredible strain of long, hungry, deep Russian winters. Things I know about countries, people, and cultures come to mind and color my perception of their music. The longings of Israel sung by their wistful clarinets, or of slaves in their spiritual songs.
I don’t mean to discount pieces with lyrics. Take “Mansions of the Lord” for example, an utterly heartrending tribute to fallen military heroes. Or “Soon Ah Will Be Done”. Our deepest longings to meet Jesus, and see those we love who’ve gone to Heaven before us, turned into the sound of human voices.

Of course music, like everything else, was created for God’s glory and will ultimately be used for His worship in eternity. However, it is also a gift of God that, in the meantime, while we wait on this groaning Earth in our wretched fallenness, we can use music to tell our anguish as well as our worship.
For believers in Jesus Christ, our mourning is temporary, to be quelled with the glorious certainty of our hope.
For the lost there is nothing to explain their pain, nothing to tame the despair and the great, screaming sound of it pours out everywhere in music.

These are just ponderings brought on by a photograph I saw today. Someone had taken an old piano and turned it into a outdoor planter and fountain. Water pouring from the keys, it looks as though it is weeping.
For me, a perfect visual of an instrument’s power to reflect human sorrow.


Six Things I’d Never Heard of Before Living in the South

Some of these are not strictly Southern, but here is a smattering of traditions, terms, and foods I’ve been tickled to learn about since coming to Arkansas six and a half years ago.

1) A “Pounding”

When new folks are moving to a home in your area from out of state/country, such as a new pastor or a new position at the office, the community helps out by signing up to buy a grocery staple (in many cases a pound, thus the name) and bring it to a party or to move-in day. All at once the newcomers are blessed with a full pantry in their new home. What a GREAT idea.

2) The “Groom’s Cake”

Oddly enough the first wedding I attended in Arkansas was that of a friend from college (in California). She was from the church we moved to in Little Rock, and had a beautiful wedding on New Year’s Day, 2008. But I was in for a surprise at the reception: two cakes?? I mean, another cake is always a good thing, but having an official bride’s cake and groom’s cake was a totally foreign concept. I love it though! It’s an entertaining way for the groom’s personality to have a platform at what is so often a bride-centered event. In the six years since then I’ve seen Darth Vader cakes, cakes made in the exact shape and detail of a soundboard, and my personal favorites: simply huge chocolate cakes loaded with chocolate icing. Yum!

3) “Dirty Santa”

In California and lots of other places, it’s  called “White Elephant”: the gift-giving game where you bring something to a Christmas party and everyone opens one and steals them from each other and has a general riot. Most of the time it’s up to the host whether you are supposed to bring something nice enough to keep, or total rubbish. Sometimes the distinction is not made, and the gifts comprise a little of both. (This would explain why I received  an old Linksys router at my boss’s house this year.) I suppose it’s the rubbish-version of the game for which calling it Dirty Santa makes sense. Some people I have asked say that it’s Dirty Santa when you’re supposed to bring clutter, and it’s White Elephant when the gifts are to be “nice”. Alrighty then.

4) “Chocolate Gravy” 

Similar to sausage gravy (or what the South calls “Biscuits and Gravy”), this extremely odd dish is just…chocolate gravy. On biscuits. Runny chocolate-ish “gravy” on plain dry biscuits. Great if you grew up with it I suppose, but this one I’m afraid I will never understand. (I did taste it.)

5) “Bridal Portraits” . . . weeks before the wedding.

This one really threw me for a loop. I felt pretty dumb. At that same New Year’s Day wedding there was a large, gorgeous framed photograph of the bride on a stand by the doorway to the reception. She looked exactly as she did in the service she’d just walked out of, but I couldn’t think how that photo could have possibly made it into that frame in the short space of time since her morning toilette. It was a morning wedding, after all. Did somebody take the photo and immediately have it rushed out to be developed, then get it in the frame and back to the church just in time? I was impressed. Mentioning this to the next person in line, I was informed of the tradition that is “Bridal Portraits.” Of course it wasn’t all done in a jiffy that morning. The photo had been taken weeks ago when the bride got all gussied up just like she would for the actual ceremony and went out for an official photo-shoot. Leaves more time for couples shots on the wedding day, and less stress for all. Huh.

6) “Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit!”

I couldn’t do a post like this without including at least one colloquialism. This is *so* my favorite, but I have yet to encounter the, uh, appropriate moment to use it…