Thursday, March 11, 2010

Background Music As Grand Narrative

(Robert DeNiro's moment of redemption in "The Mission.")

My mother loved music. I'm not sure if my father did. They started me on guitar lessons when I was five. I took lessons at Koster Guitar Studio, in Rockford, Illinois. Kay Koster was my instructor.

NAMM recognizes Kay on their website

"Kay Koster was a pioneering women retail owner, who not only successfully ran a business on her own beginning in 1940. She also personally repaired guitars and amps of all makes and models for decades –even after she closed her retail store. Koster’s Music in Rockford, IL was primarily a guitar store, perhaps the first such store in the country. As the Fender line developed, Kay was one of the first dealers in the state and soon became an expert of electric guitar repairs. In addition to her career in the industry, Kay has also been a respected guitarist, first in the big bands and then into rock and roll."

I was small, and could not hold a "real" guitar, so Kay started me on slide guitar. I took slide guitar lessons from her for three years. At times, over the years, I wish I would have continued when I hear the amazing things that can be done on the instrument! My old National Steel Guitar hangs on the wall in my office, intact, well-used, with a broken nut. The fingerstyle techniques Kay taught me as a boy laid a foundation for my entrance into fingerstyle picking when I finally got my first acoustic guitar. I used to display my fingerstyle prowess before the audience of my mother.

My mother loved to hear me play guitar. The environment might be just me, or Linda and I, in the kitchen, with my guitar, paying and singing for her. In her last month of life I brought my guitar into the nursing home where she was at. One evening she was lying in bed, and I was sitting in a chair playing exquisite, lyrical, spontaneous finger-style for her. A lady in the room next to us heard my guitar and shouted, "Shut that thing up!" I played softer. I played as well as I could for my dying mother, who had music deep in her soul, and had introduced me to music and invested in my musical career.

This morning Linda, who is a piano-vocal instructor, told me that one of her piano students wanted to learn a song called "The Crisis," by Ennio Morricone. I found it online and downloaded it. In the process I found out that Morricone wrote "Mission," the theme song for the movie "The Mission." Have you seen that movie? It has, for me, the most powerful scene of redemption there is on film, as a murderer played by Robert DeNiro is literally and spiritually released from his burden of sin that he carries with him.

I just downloaded Morricone's "Mission" and began to listen, and can hardly bear it. The whole narrative of that movie now comes to me: a humanly unpardonable sin of the murder of one's own biological brother in a fit of rage; imprisoned for the crime with nothing to do but sit in the filth of the unpardonable act, replaying it over and over; a tormented soul with life and meaning and future ripped out; physical release from prison but deep unrelenting bondage of the soul; until...  that amazing grace-filled moment... when the soul is unconditionally forgiven, the debt is cancelled, tears of gratitude flood forth..., redemption... another soul set free. I now listen to Morricone's haunting-beautiful melodic masterpiece, and I am the recipient of the Christ's redemptive activity. It feels like too much to bear, in a good way. It seems too good to be true. Yet it is true. It has become my entire life.

Every life is lived in some Grand Narrative. No one can escape the "metanarrative." I live by the life-giving biblical metanarrative. I stand with C.S. Lewis, who said that by the Grand Narrative of Judeo-Christianity "I see everything else."  N.T. Wright describes the Judeo-Christian scriptures as "a five-act play." It becomes like a piece of music, with the motif of redemption introduced, rebelled against, searched-for, accomplished ("It is finished"), and now lived-out in all of Jesus' followers who have the redemptive motif in their hearts and sing that song every day.

The Grand Narrative that makes sense of my life is remembered today, for me, in Morricone's inspired song that plays on the strings of my heart the song of redemption and release and freedom. I'm seeing things clearly again.