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Monday, 4 November 2013

Why the Arts Matter

   In the past few days three things came together for me regarding "the arts."  First, I finished reading a book entitled Simply Christian in which author and theologian Tom Wright introduces the subject of faith by sharing some universal longings and experiences that point to something beyond themselves.  One of these is the experience of beauty, whether in the world of nature or in music, visual art or photography.
   Secondly, the night I finished reading this book I was seated in the balcony of a concert hall awaiting the performance of a symphony orchestra.  When the lights dimmed and I set the book aside, I experienced the beauty of strings, brass, woodwinds and percussion working together to make meaningful sounds.  The modern composer John Williams, whose work is featured in the soundtracks of well-known films since the mid 1970’s, had his signature on all of the music played that night.  In particular,  the pieces were taken from films in which Williams collaborated with director Steven Spielberg.  I have never heard a clarinet played with such grace and energy as in “Victor’s Tale” from the movie The Terminal.  In spite of myself, I closed my eyes for the “Theme” from Jurassic Park.  Although I had not previously watched many of the films that were presented musically it was nevertheless a rich experience of beauty.  Regardless of what Williams may believe about God, I sensed the glory of God as I listened to this music.
   Third, my family and I watched (in two segments) the film Mr. Holland’s Opus.  What struck me about this production was that when cuts had to be made to a high school’s program because of limited funds, music and arts programs were slashed.  The way in which the music teacher, Glenn Holland, is honoured at the end of the story shows that music and art are not “frills” that an academic education can do without.  By helping them become proficient in playing an instrument or teaching them to appreciate different styles of music, he was teaching them about life. 
   Coming back to author Tom Wright, he likewise sees a place for the arts within Christian belief and living.  He says,
“They [the arts] are highways into the centre of a reality which cannot be glimpsed, let alone grasped, any other way.”[1]
While people need to specialize today to get jobs in engineering, IT, management, finance, and medicine, let them continue to nourish themselves with the things that remind us we are human: good literature, art, music, film, drama, and worship.

[1] Tom Wright, Simply Christian, London: SPCK, 2006, page 201


  1. I know that feeling of sitting in the concert hall. A season or two ago I had the huge thrill of hearing Dvorak's "New World Symphony" played live. It's my favourite peace of music. It was surreal.

    I'm amazed at the skills needed to not only play an instrument in an orchestra but the skills/gifts/imagination needed to compose a symphony. How can a composer know exactly which sound an individual instrument will make as he is putting the notes onto barred paper?

    I love how you use the word nourish! So descriptive!