I just listened to an interview with Bobby McFerrin conducted by Krista Tippett on her American Public Media broadcast entitled On Being. Krista talks with a wide variety of people on subjects of faith, religion, and spirituality. In the past I’ve listened to fascinating discussions with persons like the Dalai Lama, Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann, and Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize. I had especially looked forward to Bobby McFerrin’s interview, for I have been a fan of this amazing musician for a long time, and I must say I was not disappointed. McFerrin’s mastery of his singing voice, combined with his phenomenal improvisatory skills, have resulted in many engaging musical moments for audiences throughout the world and it was fascinating to hear his take on a number of subjects.
I was particularly struck by McFerrin’s comment that the music we listen to should be “redemptive and life-affirming.” He went on to lament the degrading and cynical subject matter of much of the music listened to by young people today and suggested that since music has such a power to influence we should be careful what we listen to and perform. It made me think about the music we’ve just begun rehearsing in The Michael O’Neal Singers. Beethoven’s Mass in C Major, Op. 86, will be performed with the Johns Creek Symphony Orchestra at the end of February. This rarely performed piece is truly an inspiring work of art. Written more than a decade after Beethoven had begun to lose his hearing, and five years after his profoundly moving epistle, the Heiligenstadt Testament, the Mass shows a composer already pushing the limits of accepted musical style and exploring expanded interpretations of a centuries old text. I am thankful that this masterpiece which came from Beethovens head, heart and soul over two hundred years ago still has the ability to be “redemptive and life-affirming” to those of us who peform or hear it today.