Learning to hear…

I am fascinated by obscure (and ancient) Asian musical instruments…just show me someone who isn’t. […]

DPotter / 7.22.09

I am fascinated by obscure (and ancient) Asian musical instruments…just show me someone who isn’t. Yes, they provide a great score to back the garden variety Kung Fu movie, but what interests me is that the notes and chords produced by these unique contraptions are like that of no other Western instrument. In a world of mass-produced pop-nonsense that seems to repackage the same old cliché’s in the form of glitzy ‘it girls/boys’ who churn out boring 3 chord melodies, don’t we all just need a break?

Anyway, here are a few of my favorites (collect ’em, trade ’em with your friends):

1. The unwieldy Lusheng (sheng, for short) is a 3,000 year old Chinese instrument; it is like a harmonica on steroids, but its sound is completely magical.

2. The Erhu is a two stringed instrument that is essentially a mix between a violin and a tree branch. It dates back to the Tang Dynasty (7th-10th c). Hendrix, look out.

3. The Guzheng , with up to two dozen strings, is on the opposite side of the spectrum from the Erhu. It dates to 91 BC, and is featured in a beautifully choreographed scene from the film ‘Kung Fu Hustle’ (not for the fainthearted, but shows up about 1 min into clip).

4. And finally, who could forget the voice as an instrument? Chinese opera, as I’m told, is one of the oldest forms of the art, pre-dating its European cousin by 900 years.

What is the point of all this? It seems to me, perhaps not surprisingly, that there is a correlation between the unique notes produced by each of these instruments and the ancient message of Jesus. I accept that all analogies are a bid dodgy, but just indulge me. While Jesus’ ‘melody’ of redemption, grace and reconciliation remains a mystery to the world, like the Chinese instruments, it is also so distinct that one simply cannot ignore it like the music of yesterday’s one-hit-wonder.
Many of us have found that to listen to Jesus is also to have one’s ear tuned to an entirely different frequency. It seems that, all this time, the Master has essentially been teaching us how to listen, how to hear. So we go into the world every day with ears that are hungry for the grace note; and we pray that God will allow it to echo throughout our relationships and our lives as well. Like the Chinese instruments, the words of Jesus continually transport us to a place that is both mysterious and entirely real, a place where the music never dies.


6 responses to “Learning to hear…”

  1. dwcasey says:

    In our day of wanting to reach for what is new and shiny, cool and hip, it’s amazing how some things have such a lasting impression. Is the “art” being produced today going to be looked at or listened to in 1000 years?

    Reminds a little bit about the passage speaking about us seeking the old paths and old ways. A bit of an over spiritual-izing of the verse, but there are some things, some ways of doing things that are just better.

  2. Ginny says:

    I agree that we all need some instrumental diversity or at least in musical composition. I recommend this new favorite of mine (a minimalist) Arvo Part's Tabula Rasa, which is translated loosely from Latin to mean "clean slate." This feels like a palette-cleanser to the ears. Traces of Asian dissonance.

    Our ears need reprieve as much as a tired body needs rest or rejuvenation.

  3. Michael says:

    This is why, whenever I hear the ukulele, I think of the gospel. All churches should have their big, bad pipe organs, or big bad guitar amps, ripped out and in their place…ukuleles, or maybe an erhu or two.
    Thank you, Potter, for expanded horizons.

  4. DZ says:

    George Harrison's instrument of choice in his later years was a ukulele. just sayin…

  5. Todd says:

    DP- No love for the Shamisen? I once saw a father-son shamisen duel and it's probably the best musical performance I've ever seen.

  6. dpotter says:

    DW-Yes, and I think this is partly why many are still captivated Europe's ecclesiastical architecture.

    Ginny-Thanks for that, hadn't heard of Part until now, really lovely…TR sounds a bit like Vivaldi at points, I wonder if he was influenced by him?

    Todd-Sorry man, I should have caught that. Nice call.
    Michael-I think I remember hearing that the pipe organ was innovative at its time. Do you know if that is true?

    DZ-You're so much like your dad in that you know stuff like this. 🙂

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