The Food of Love

“If music be the food of love, play on. . .”

William Shakespeare – Twelfth Night, Act I, Scene I

My sixteen-year-old granddaughter has been singing in the choir at her high school for the past two years and informed me recently that she “really wants to learn how to read music.” Eyebrows raised. I thought she already knew since she played the flute in her elementary school band. “No, Grandma, I just faked it.” After I got over that incredulity, I asked if she would like me to teach her this summer. We agreed to meet once a week for lessons in basic music theory and the piano keyboard.

For those of you who do not know, I come from a musical family on my mother’s side. I grew up listening to classical music, played the flute for eight years, piano lessons for six. Theatre was my first college major and I minored in music at the University of Minnesota. I sang and danced in many musical theatre productions and had early aspirations to become a stage actress. Even though that was a long time ago and I went through several career changes, my love of music has remained strong. However rusty the mind and fingers may become, one never forgets how to read notes on a staff. Passing along the basics to my granddaughter seemed like a heavenly opportunity.

As anyone who has tried knows, learning to read music is like encountering a new language. There are strange symbols that need to be deciphered, memorized, and then practiced. A simple scale of seven notes with literally thousands of variations emanates on multiple octaves that can be raised half steps (sharps) or lowered (flats). In between the notes are rests and silences, equal in beauty to the sounds echoing from creation.

As I began to explain the basics and watched Elaina’s nonverbal, I realized at once that she was a bit overwhelmed with the immensity of this undertaking. I reassured her that we would take it one note, one beat, one measure at a time, exercising determination, perseverance, and patience. Precious few are born with an outrageous musical gift (like Mozart), many understand the complexity from a mathematical aptitude, while others simply resonate creatively on a vibrational level that cannot be explained. Whatever the circumstance, proficiency comes with time and effort. For the sheer love of music, anyone can sink into the depths, collapse into the arms of God and remain there, regardless of whether or not they know music theory.

The same can be said of the spiritual life. Learning to “see God in all things, and all things in God,” as the Jesuits say, is not the same for everyone. Some identify Truth with strong intellectual certitude, some know God by experience, while others remain baffled by things “seen and unseen.” Despite our differences in perception, something or Someone reverberates throughout creation and into our consciousness.

I have often wondered, along with many others, if music is simply the voice of the Divine, speaking in a language beyond words that we all understand, moving our hearts to heightened awareness, elevating and transporting us to places we could never fathom or conjure up ourselves. Perhaps the Holy One gave us music to teach us about the sacramentality of our daily existence. Even the simplicity of a C major chord seems to say “come and eat the food of love,” everyone is welcome at this table.

Each passing day, I crave this spiritual nourishment and am never satiated. I turn the radio to my favorite classical music station every morning so I can listen all day to the great composers who continue to spread the banquet of love. Sitting together at the keyboard and playing simple scales, teaching muscle memory to another generation’s fingers fills my spirit with wonder. These summer days, I feel privileged to help my granddaughter unlock some of the mysteries of life that music holds. In doing so, her beautiful curiosity is honored and feeds a radiant hope for the future.

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