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Royal Music
by Matt Bynum

Great music gives glory not to musicians, but to God

Suppose that you are attending a get-together at the home of one of your friends. All of you are seated in the living room, when your host announces that there are musicians in attendance who will now perform Schubert's "Trout" Quintet. The musicians set up their instruments, and then begin to play. Marvelous! Surely this is the life of royalty!

What you have experienced is "chamber music"; rich, multi-movement works written for a small number of instruments, suitable for performing in small, intimate settings. Examples of such works are Mozart's Clarinet Quintet in A Major (1789), Beethoven's Violin Sonata in F Major (1800), Brahms' String Sextet in G Major (1864), Dvorak's Piano Trio in E Minor (1891), and Ravel's String Quartet (1903). These works are performed by chamber music groups such as the Borromeo Quartet, the Eroica Trio, and the Quarteto Gelato.

The term "quartet" usually refers to an ensemble of two violins, a viola, and a cello, whereas a "sextet" is two violins, two violas and two cellos. A "trio" is usually a piano, violin, and cello. But other instruments and groupings are possible as well.

It is highly likely that you, or at least your friends and neighbors, have never heard a live performance of chamber music. This is unfortunate, because, as it turns out, there are quite a few parallels between experiencing chamber music and living the Christian life.

Consider the members of a chamber music group - they can be compared to members of the body of Christ. Since a chamber music ensemble is quite small, compared to an orchestra, what each member "says" and does is very important. Yet, no one member is more important than any other. The members can be old or young, male or female, and of any ethnic origin, but none of these things matter. All that is important is that each member is willing to work together with the other members, assisting, encouraging and serving one another. And when everything comes together as it should, a tight bond is formed among the members, and the quality of music that they play is outstanding.

A chamber music ensemble is usually seated in a semi-circle, open towards the audience. This allows the audience to become an invisible member of the ensemble. It is as if each audience member is in there with the musicians, in the midst of all the glorious music, experiencing grand fellowship.

It is said that, in heaven, there will be no "tomorrow" or "yesterday", for everything will be "now". We will not be bound by time as we are on this earth. But "timelessness" is difficult for us to imagine. Yet, it is demonstrated in chamber music. It is quite a paradox - the music itself exists in time, yet somehow, when the music plays, we sense that time stands still. During the performance of the work, we are transported, and we are given a glimpse of how things are to be.

When the performance ends, we know that the music that we have experienced is "good", because we, the audience, see the performers not as "high and lifted up" (an idolotry that is far too common today), but as brothers and sisters. The musicians may be technical virtuosos and musical geniuses, and we may admire their God-given talent, but it would be silly for us to think of them as any more than ordinary men and women. It is the same with the music's composer - if he is honest, he will admit that he did not "create" the work, but merely "discovered" it. We can see how great music gives glory not to musicians, but to God.

So, by all means, make plans to attend a chamber music performance in your town. And be sure to support and encourage your local musicians!

Last updated: 12 April 2006
Updated by: Matt Bynum