Liturgy and Concerts

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Left to right: Sydney and Maria

Another spontaneous post in my blog hibernation.

I’ve been to a number of music concerts over the years — rock, classical, jazz, country, sacred — and have always found them to be powerful experiences that leave lasting effects. A number of years ago, I wrote an amateur paper on the similarities between liturgy and music concerts. I’ll share with you here a few simple thoughts from that paper.

To make it a little more lively, less theoretical, I will steal some illustrative quotes from a dear friend of my daughter Maria, named Sydney, who wrote some wonderful and raw reflections on her experience of a Twenty One Pilots concert she, Maria and some friends went to in early July out in Woodlands, Texas. Sydney is a lovely, ebullient and smart young lady who has a beautiful faith and a heart for the homeless. She and her friends all go to Mount Carmel Academy, so today I give a special shout out to all the MCA Cubs on this feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel!

I used three words to organize my reflections in the paper: community, transcendence and transformation.

Community: Liturgy (in the most general sense) is meant to be an experience of binding, of being joined to God and the community of saints, along with the gathered faithful in an intimate experience of worship and encounter. Those who enter into the liturgical act are joined, in all their wild diversity, by a common faith, hope and love; by the harmony of words, music and gestures; and by symbols that express a common identity. Worshipers are united around a “celebrant,” the presider who embodies, mediates and gives voice to a unifying center: the drama of God saving us in Christ. Around the celebrant, who is a sacramental sign of Christ, all are made one. Good liturgy should leave people feeling more fully joined to God and to the community of faith. It should ground and solidify their sense of identity as they depart out the church doors into a fragmented world.

The music concert, from the Latin verb concertare, “bring into agreement,” is also an experience of binding, of being joined with fellow concert goers (“fans”) in the power and beauty and energy of music and its message. Fans, like the faithful, have given something of themselves over to the musical culture created by the musicians, as they find it both expresses and gives shape to their own experience and understanding of life. The performers, who become “larger than life” as they celebrate the musical event, embody, mediate and give voice to music’s transcendent and unifying power. Good performers make you sense they understand your world personally and intimately, and by their authenticity, allow you into their world. The musical concert becomes a form of communion and gives those who may feel alone in the world a sense of belonging.

After what felt like hours of anxious waiting, the screens on the sides of the stage that showed ads clicked off, and the screams from the adoring and dedicated fans amplified. We could see a shadow of a figure lying on the ground on the stage, which we had reason to believe was Tyler. He was reaching his hand out to the audience, almost as if he wished we were experiencing what he was experiencing. The dark shadow of his hand diminished gradually, and all I wanted was for it to return. Not even 30 seconds later, the arm’s shadow returned. It was once again reaching out to the audience. He stood up and walked away, leaving me wanting a lot more than an arm.

Transcendence: Liturgy is meant to take us “beyond” ourselves, to lift us from our self-contained isolation out into an expansive world revealed to the faithful by faith and longed for by hope. In liturgy we are lifted up into the “heavenly” world of a God who is both infinitely beyond us and radically near to us, and who loves us and desires our love. We are also drawn out of ourselves in liturgy into the “earthly” world of a universal church, a community of faithful who share our search for God’s FarNear divine love. Liturgy unites heaven and earth, reconciles us to one another and is ecstatic, from the Greek ek-stasis, to “stand outside oneself.” Liturgy pulls us out of the flat dimensions of the mundane, pokes holes in our low ceilings and empowers us to re-see ordinary life in the light of transcendent realities encountered in the celebration of the liturgy. Liturgy awakens in us awe and amazement.

The music concert also takes us beyond ourselves into an ecstatic experience, as performers use their music to sweep us up and out into a vast world of transcendent beauty and impassioned meaning. Performers, and their art, appear before us on stage as multidimensional symbols proclaiming transcendent truths and enacting dramatic and paradoxical tensions, appearing before us as larger-than-life and at once very near to us. The sounds and lyrics, the choreography and visual effects, the costumes and facial expressions of the performers all combine to draw fans out of themselves and into a new world of imagination and meaning created and revealed by their art. It is in these dizzying tensions that pulse between the Far and the Near, the familiar and the strange, that the concert’s greatest power lies; a power that disposes fans to receive the music’s transformative power.

…we sat in our seats in the pavilion in Woodlands, Texas, which were in the middle area of the back section, but they weren’t totally in the back because there were people on the lawn behind us. There were two opening bands who were very unique and cool sounding. tøp [twenty one pilots] was set to start at 8:45 PM, so we were all waiting in anticipation for that moment to come. After the opening bands, very ominous music was playing, making my anxiety rise even higher. There was an intense red light, which lit up an entire piece of cloth that was shielding what the crew was doing onstage to set up for twenty one pilots. Either Swan or Nina realized that there was a mini stage with a piano and drums about 25 feet in front of us. I was in complete shock/awe that Josh Dun and Tyler Joseph would be that close to me and my friends who have been loving them for so long.

…One of the most memorable moments, although there were plenty, was when the self-titled album medley was performed. I would say the stage they performed the medley and “Ode To Sleep” on was about was about 20-25 feet from us. It was something I had only pictured happening in my dreams, and it was happening right there, 20 feet in front of me. Through all the sweat from the 90º+ heat, I managed to have the best experience possible.

Transformation: Every liturgy should leave one’s perception of reality changed, adjusted more nearly to the vision of faith revealed and enacted in the liturgical celebration. Every aspect of liturgy, from Word and song to ritual gestures and vestments, should dispose the worshiper to the experience of a deeper communion with God and the faithful; to receive the dynamic and incarnate grace of God made present to all those gathered in the celebration. Liturgy should leave you thinking and feeling differently about everything (the meaning of metanoia/conversion), in a way that leads to a reformation of your way of life to one in closer conformity to the vision of faith.

Music possesses an unparalleled ability to open up, enter and shape both mind and heart, to stir up inner regions of deep feeling and inspire the loftiest of sentiments. For good or for ill, music gives expression, interprets and reveals the human experience of reality in a manner that surpasses mere words or ideas. Music can take words and ideas and confer on them a staggering power to journey deep into the inner self, drenching emotions and imagination, and planting its contents firmly into the identity-bearing memory. During a music concert, the senses are saturated with a diverse array of sights and sounds, smells and vibrations, which amplify the music’s power to influence devoted fans who believe these performers offer to them something true, beautiful and good.

…During the self-titled album medley, they were performing “Addict With A Pen,” and one of the lines in the song is “you hear me screaming father,” and on the word “father,” Tyler looked up instinctively, like he is used to looking up when speaking to the Lord. Writing this is giving me chills, and I certainly had chills, mixed with my sweat and tears at the concert.

…This band never ceases to amaze me. The last best part of the concert, although the whole thing was amazing, was when Tyler climbed up on a ladder that was in the middle of the pavilion and stood on a platform to perform “Car Radio.” He did this for maybe the whole second half of the song. He was once again extremely close to us, and I spoke/sang every lyric of that song with such purpose because it was the first song I ever heard by them in the summer of 2014, and it quickly became my favorite. The performance of every song was everything I have ever imagined and more.

This is why I so clearly appreciate Twenty One Pilots, as they offer a contemporary art form that gives those who have ears to hear the opportunity to be united in a quest for the FarNear and transformed by a message of hope.

I’ll leave you with a video clip from that concert. It’s the performance of Ode to Sleep. Thanks, Sydney, for letting me share with my readers your sprightly, heartfelt and passionate insights!

5 comments on “Liturgy and Concerts

  1. Oneview says:

    Thanks for this comparison, Dr. Tom! My experience of the twenty one pilots concert in Kansas City last weekend was, I believe, a bit like a person who has been culturally exposed to the Mass and is just learning about the Catholic faith and liturgy. While I had heard some of the songs and knew a bit about the Tyler and Josh, I was a bit of an outsider at the concert. Our three girls and their friend were gracious enough to welcome my husband and I into their world (since we had paid for the tickets!), but for parts of the concert we were only able to observe, we could not fully participate. It was true performing art and we could sense the connection between the band and their audience, but while we thoroughly enjoyed it, along with the other older adults who were there, we remained to a certain degree outsiders.

    • Oneview: That is a really astute application of my reflection, making even clearer the overlap between liturgy and music concerts. Only those who are converted and catechized can really enter fully into the power of these events as an experience of community, transcendence and transformation. Thank you for sharing this here! I’ll let you know what my experience is next March when I go to their concert, but I think I am a “true believer.”🙂 Peace, Dr. Tom

  2. Sarah Ashour says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this reflection, and special thanks to Sydney for her beautifully-written descriptions of the concert! I almost went to this exact concert. I even got to the point of looking up tickets online to purchase, but ultimately decided not to go. The idealist in me knew I would only be satisfied with a first-row, VIP, perfect concert experience because Twenty One Pilots mean so much to me. Perhaps I’m the sort of person who just longs for the end and not the halfway. Silly of me, just as it is silly not to go to mass because it’s not heaven.

    • I love your honesty, Sarah. Thank you for commenting. And thank you for your kind words to Sydney — she appreciated them very much. Yes, the desire for perfection, for the ideal, is planted in us, is it not? I get your struggle so well!
      Pardon this monologue:
      It has occasioned for me again and again a deeper reflection on the role of the small, the imperfect, the contingent in the Christian life. As a homilist said just the other day here in Omaha: “Christ has made the small, the hidden, the partial and the insignificant the principal gateway to greatness in the Kingdom. This is why Christ tells us to choose the last place at table; not simply because it will occasion the reward of being brought up front, but because the last place is the preferred haunt of Jesus. And if we can find Jesus in the least likely places, we will find ‘Him who fills all in all’ [Eph 1:23] anywhere.”
      That said, I also want a first-row, VIP, perfect concert experience because Twenty One Pilots mean so much to me.
      So now I will return to that struggle in my insignificant and unfinished world…
      Peace and all good to you! Let me know when you see 21P!🙂
      tn

      • Sarah Ashour says:

        I hope you won’t mind me derailing the comment section to say that more than likely I won’t have another chance to see twenty one pilots. In less than three weeks, I’m entering the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia. Talk about wanting the front-row experience! But your comment did make me ponder how while religious life is often called a way to live Heaven here on earth, it nevertheless does so through smallness.
        I didn’t want to suddenly disappear from your readership without a word of whether I made it to a concert! I also wanted to say thank you for such inspiring blog posts. Your poetry and insights are incredible, and I am so thankful that you share them with the world. God bless!

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