Many people have said music is the language of God. I am not sure if God needs a language, but I do know that music has a way of getting deep into one’s heart and soul. In some sense, it is a universal language that everyone seems to understand without much explanation. It leads us into certain moods, distant memories. It heightens our different senses in unexpected ways. It carries messages deep into our psyche. It organizes our thoughts and it frees our thoughts at the same time to allow creative expressions.
In a recent article that advertises a new composition to be performed in the San Francisco area
there was the mentioning of the connection between Argentina’s Jewish community and tango – how Jews who fled from Russia in the 1880s arrived in Argentina, using music as a way to integrate into the new community that they had to now call “home.” Back then, many of the Jews were classically trained violinists who found their part in the society by playing in ensembles, performing tangos which are popular in the Argentine culture.
With the universality of music, it is no surprise that the Jews are able to use their ability to perform the community’s most popular music genre, to communicate and, therefore, to integrate into the society.
I once heard a story where a Chinese immigrant was looking for a job in Canada. As his education in China was not recognized in North America, he was willing to work for just any job. However, language seems to be a barrier for him in job hunting. He was very frustrated one day after being turned down at an interview for a job as a waiter in an Italian restaurant. As he was leaving the restaurant, he started singing “O sole mio.” All of a sudden, the owner stopped him at the door and asked him why did not mention that he sings! Apparently, he had studied voice in China and had learned to sing a few Italian songs. The owner would love to have someone on staff who can “entertain” patrons on special occasions. Anyway, this revelation landed him his first job in a new country!
I love telling this story as it is clear that this immigrant’s life is changed solely because of his ability to sing in foreign languages.
Personally, music has been important in helping me settled in many new environments. Many years ago, I had my struggles when I first came to Canada and enrolled in high school. While I had studied English Language and all subjects in English, except for Chinese Language and Chinese history, all throughout my school years in Hong Kong, I was very shy in communicating with other fellow students in the beginning, keenly aware that I was speaking with an accent. So, apart from the necessary exchanges in school, I kept mostly to myself. One morning, I arrived at school a little too early and decided to entertain myself, playing the piano in the empty classroom next door. When I started playing, there was not another soul in the entire corridor of classrooms. Little did I know, other students and teachers started arriving while I was playing my favourite pieces. After that, I was invited to play “O Canada” for the school assemblies (and I learned to play “O Canada” before I learned to sing it). Next thing I know, I was accompanying the school choirs, participating in the fundraisers, their outreach events for seniors (which included musical entertainment), etc. By the end of my high school year, I think I knew everyone in my grade and they all knew me. Playing music not only helped me feel comfortable in a new environment, it helped get me integrated into the life of the student community at my high school.
Similar events happened again when I began my university career. The large student body at the university never provides an easy environment for an introvert. Let’s be frank, introverts do not do well in open crowds and there are usually plenty of those in the life of students. However, volunteering to play the piano for Sunday liturgies and the occasional dinners at student residence not only let me participate in student life, it also allowed me to participate confidently as it gave me a purpose in those social situations.
As for life outside an educational institution, the most obvious environment where I encountered music was the church. Obviously, the mass is always easy to follow in any country. Though it might proceed in different languages in different countries, the order of the mass is always the same. Many hymns also share the same hymn tunes. Again, the lyrics may be different, in different languages. However, hearing familiar tunes, as simple as the Alleluia,
just make one feel right at home. When you think about it, it is so important for the baptized to feel right at home in the house of God!
So, is music the language of God? Who knows? But music is probably created by God to allow communication among His children, to allow us to communicate to Him and for Him to sink his thoughts in us!