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The quote, “music is the universal language of mankind” is attributed to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882). He’s not alone in thinking or expressing this opinion.

In fact, recent studies confirm that people, regardless of culture or previous exposure, are able to discern the basic emotions of happiness, sadness and fear in music.

Philosopher Karen Marie Higgins (2012), in her book “The Music Between Us” speaks of “music’s uncanny ability to provoke, despite its myriad forms across continents and throughout centuries, the sense of shared human experience.”

The medium is simply a creative mix of sound and silence. In presentation, there’s often an orchestrated composition, demanding a precise recreation at every performance. There’s also that which is more improvisational and personal in character.

Poet Peter Porter (1929-2010) spoke of the possible joining of words and music, calling it “a marriage made in heaven.” And, many would agree that the combination of an interesting rhythm and compelling lyrics makes for popular music.

Personal expression

From our very first social bonding experiences to the funeral rites that mark our passing, music plays a significant part in all our lives. Whether subjective or objective, it affords an opportunity for a fullness of personal expression.

In the music documentary “Say Amen, Somebody” (1982), Thomas A. Dorsey relates the story behind his Christian classic “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” Having experienced the loss of both his wife and infant son, he acknowledged, in solemn song, his being “tired, weary and worn.”

Mahalia Jackson (1911-1972), the legendary “Queen of Gospel,” included the Dorsey composition in her personal repertoire. She explained her preferences in song selection, saying, “I sing God’s music because it makes me feel free” and “gives me hope.”

Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington (1899-1974) established a reputation for sacred jazz concerts and his song “Come Sunday” is in church hymnals. His hymn composition is a musical testimony of God’s good grace and providence, concluding “with God’s blessing we can make it through eternity.”

Another dimension

Psalm 19, a sample of sacred Hebrew poetry, speaks of a universal language of another dimension and direction. The Common English Bible (2011) translation begins “Heaven is declaring God’s glory.” It is said that this “sound extends throughout the world” and that these “words reach the ends of the earth.”

The original Hebrew word (translated “sound”) has a primary meaning of “cord” as in connecting, for measuring or directional purposes. There’s a secondary meaning, more appropriate for this context, relating to “chord” (as a string of a harp, hence sound). The New International Version (1973) dares to use the word “Voice.”

There’s no nation, or people, whatever language, to whom the heavens do not speak, declaring the greatness and glory of God.

To this one powerful root tone of creation, add the revelation of the sacred scriptures and the visible representation of God in Christ Jesus, and we have a magnificent triad chord of perfect pitch and eternal duration.

Wayne Clapier is a retired minister affiliated with the Bible Fellowship Conference of Churches. He is presently serving as Interim Sr. Adult Ministries Coordinator at Mercer Creek Church, Ellensburg. Contact:

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