One of the musical skeletons in my closet is that I was a band geek. From fourth grade through the first few years of college, I sat on the end of the front row to the far left of the conductor, hitting the high notes and trying to avoid getting hit by his frantic baton. Yes, I was not just a band geek. I was a clarinet geek.
There are actually quite a few benefits to playing the clarinet. For one, it is socially acceptable to be a guy and play clarinet, but you get to hang out with all the girls too (granted, they are girl clarinet geeks, but they are girls!). Second, I didn’t have to sit next to the vuvuzela-like blare of the trumpets and trombones, and the river of saliva that always trailed them when they cleared their spit valves. And third, we always lined the clarinets up front in the marching band, so I was always in the front row. This was vitally important when the band followed horses in a parade (which was often), because we had a clear view of the horse poop they left on the street so we could avoid stepping on it.
But one of my favorite benefits was that I always got free tickets to the symphony. The Monterey County Symphony always comped the local high schools, and several times a year, our band director would query, “Okay, who wants free tickets to the symphony?” My hand would quickly shoot up (interestingly, my hand would be the only one), and I would score a couple for me and my girlfriend (uh, yeah, my clarinet-playing girlfriend). So it was a cheap date. But it was always more than that.
In those days, the Symphony would play at Madonna del Sasso Catholic Church in Salinas, a thoroughly modern, stone and hardwood building with amazing acoustics. An erect steeple floated heavenward, and wooden pews wrapped around a marble center floor on three sides, so there was never a bad seat. My girlfriend and I would quietly sit in the dark, intently holding hands and with equal intent, listen to the symphony interpret Wagner, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Gershwin. Obviously, I didn’t fully understand the musical sophistication, technique, or historicity of what we were hearing. But as the music enfolded around us, as the timpani swelled and the violins soared and the french horns somberly filled the space in between, we felt awe.
As I reflect on it now—a fourteen year old clarinet-playing kid who went to these concerts—I believe I was feeling not only the power of the music, but the power of God’s intention for music. Because if God is the ultimate source of all creativity, then our human creativity hints at the power and diversity and wonder that God intended.
God is evidenced in the sunset, the waterfall, the baby’s gurgle, the starry night. His fingerprint is embedded in all creation, no matter how skewed we have made it. And as His creation, He can also be evidenced in our own creations, at least that which aspires to beauty and wonder and excellence. Put another way, God is the ultimate source of all awe. And by design, we were made to feel this reverential wonder and even aspire to it.
The other thing is that we would experience the symphony in this beautiful church building. The altar, the cross, and many other icons of faith would surround us, beckoning us to transcend the mortal threshold, to hear the eternal song that reverberated beyond the mere notes. It was almost as if it were part of the orchestration itself.
Although I didn’t really get it then, the theological and spiritual and personal connection between God and the feeling of awe is natural for me now. I understand it in my head, I know it in my heart, and I’ve felt it in my life. It is as natural as breathing.
And so, although it took me half a lifetime to understand, I now know—He was there with me all along.