The Gift of Music
Waiting for us to engage with it, to brighten our spirits or touch us deeply
One of the pieces performed this spring by the BIG ARTS Community Chorus on Sanibel is titled “The Gift of Music,” with words and music by John Rutter. Its lyrics are unusual in that they address the audience directly, and culminate with a simple wish: “May your soul have the gift of music.” It’s a beautiful phrase that speaks to a nearly universal aspect of human existence, but also one that, naturally, manifests itself differently in individual lives. Viewing music as a gift encourages us to appreciate it more and take it less for granted. Doing so reminds us how fortunate we are that performers and composers have created such a wealth of musical works over the centuries for us to enjoy. This music waits for us to engage—or re-engage—with it, perhaps to brighten our spirits or touch us deeply. By describing one’s soul as possessing the gift of music, Rutter’s lyrics suggest a profound connection between music and the whole person. While as listeners we can be the recipients of a great variety of musical works, the next step after appreciation comes participation—singing in a choir, studying an instrument, playing in a band or even creating your own music. These are all potential gifts to ourselves that will provide lasting rewards, easily justifying the discipline and commitment they require. And as we ourselves participate in creating music, music becomes a gift we can then give to others. When thinking of the idea of music as a gift, our children also come to mind. Although we might wonder at prodigies who seem to be naturally born with the gift of music (such as Mozart and Mendelssohn), simply nurturing an appreciation for music through exposure beginning at a young age will set the stage for future musical endeavors and activities for any child, whether or not he or she is apparently “gifted.” As parents, guardians and teachers, we are in a position to cultivate a love of music in our young ones, and that is a gift that may well last a lifetime. Rutter’s “The Gift of Music,” however, is not focused on children, but rather was dedicated to a friend of the composer on the occasion of her 80th birthday. The rest of the lyrics aptly contrast the gift of music with more ephemeral aspects of life, as the following excerpt illustrates:
“Would you wish for youth and beauty, or wealth to make a show? Or power and position and strength? Oh no: For your youth it will vanish, and beauty will fade, And your wealth and position are all a passing parade. May your soul have the gift of music ... Every day that you spend with music Is the best day, the best new day of the year.”
So, when contemplating all that music has to offer, it is gratifying to know that yes, we can all have the gift of music. And how much better is the fact that we can share that gift!
Pianist, instructor and musicologist Erik Entwistle received an undergraduate degree in music from Dartmouth College. He earned a post-graduate degree in piano performance at Washington University in St. Louis. He earned his doctorate in musicology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He teaches on Sanibel.