NOTEworthy: Hymn to St. Cecilia

Hymn to St. Cecilia

Daniel Knaggs

The saints. Growing up firmly in the protestant arm of Christianity, I confess that I am largely uneducated as it pertains to these titans of faith and works. Cecilia, however, I do know – mostly because she is considered to be the patron saint of music. Daniel is not the first to set this hymn to her, nor will he be the last.

Of his piece, Daniel says:

Hymn to St. Cecilia is an English setting of the Latin prayer Cecilia virgo, whose melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic features are punctuated by singing that is sometimes accompanied by the organ and sometimes exposed in a cappella sections. The crux of the piece occurs in the moment that describes how many look to St. Cecilia (i.e. music) “to transform the world’s mourning into the glory of Paradise.”

I’m struck by that last line.

So much of our collective Christian lore can be summed up by this idea of good things coming from bad circumstances. Daniel emerges unscathed from the Lion’s Den, Shadrach and company walk out of the flames unburned, Lazarus lives again, and Jesus’ tomb is found empty.

This celebrates how music, particularly the expression of mourning through music, transforms that mourning into glory.

But can we take this a step further?

The process of moving inner emotions into the external world through music (or any art) requires that you first face the fullness of what you are experiencing. As Yip Harburg, lyricist for “Over the Rainbow” writes, “Words make you think thoughts, music makes you feel a feeling, but a song makes you feel a thought.”

I think this is the way that music transforms our mourning into the glory of Paradise. When we express ourselves through music or art or theatre or dance – we tap into a world beyond the limits of words. Poetry, even, moves beyond these limits because truly profound poetry speaks more loudly in its own subtext than its language.

So how does that apply to our faith besides “Join Choir” (which you should, by the way..)?

Expression is elevating.

Just as faith without works is dead, ideas and dreams left unexpressed can never change the world. Similarly, a faith structured to mirror the faith of another, no matter how admirable and saint-like that model is, will never be an honest expression of one’s own faith! Your faith should express itself in ways that are unique to you! If we claim that all works of the Lord are wonderful, we must allow that His work also includes each person’s individuality.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
Matthew 7:7-8

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
Psalm 139:13-14

Andy Eaton
Director of Music
First Presbyterian Church