Reaching Past Dementia Through Music, by Msgr. Charles Pope

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By Msgr. Charles Pope, June 27, 2019

In my life, I have learned that music is extremely powerful, often doing what mere words alone cannot.

There have been several times in my life when my soul was asleep morally, and it was music that called me back. Although I joined the church choir when I was young in order to meet girls, it was through the music that the Lord showed me a deeper desire in my heart for goodness, beauty, and truth—indeed, my desire for God Himself. The music awoke my sleeping soul to God.

More recently, and in a particular way, music awakens my soul to the deeper meaning of Sacred Scripture. I hear or read a Scripture passage that in the past has had only a marginal impact on me, but then when the choir take it up in song it is pressed indelibly into my heart. Through the music, my heart and soul are awakened to the deeper meaning of a particular text.

With humility I have also learned that though I may preach boldly, it is often the choir’s sung response that makes the words catch fire. I have learned to link what I preach to what is sung and to work carefully with the musicians, for while the spoken word may inform and even energize, the sung word strikes even deeper, imprinting the message into the deepest parts of the heart.

The following is purported to be engraved on the outside of an opera house in Germany:

Bach gave us God’s Word, Mozart gave us God’s laughter, Beethoven gave us God’s fire. God gave us music that we might pray without words.

Scripture says that the Lord puts music in our hearts and that by it, many will be summoned to faith. The Lord set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD (Psalm 40:3-4).

Yes, music can often reach where mere words cannot.

The video below shows the amazing effect of music on an elderly man named Henry, who had become fairly solitary and incommunicative. His very posture illustrated well St. Augustine’s remarkable diagnosis of the human problem of incurvatus in se (turned inward on oneself).

Henry’s daughter remembers a lively, vivacious man who quite literally danced through life, but who in the last ten years has shut down and turned inward.

Then came a near miracle, through something ordinary yet mystical: music. Wait until you see how it awakens Henry! The difference in him is astonishing. Suddenly it is abundantly clear that there is still someone “alive” inside Henry’s aging body—alive indeed, the human soul is still deeply touched by the good, the true, and the beautiful.

Henry says that when he hears music, “I feel loved … the Lord came to me and made me a holy man … so he gave me these sounds.”

It’s the old Henry, the real Henry, alive and joyful. Where mere words fail, music speaks. Where therapy struggles, music soars.

I remember an elderly woman I used to visit, Ms. Lorena; she died some years back at the ripe old age of 104. When I’d visit, there wasn’t much she or I could say, but when I would start to sing one of the old hymns “… by and by … yes, we’ll understand it better by and by,” Ms. Lorena would light up and join in. She’d sit up straight in her chair and suddenly she was young once again.

There’s an old spiritual with these lyrics: Over my head, I hear music in the air, there must be a God somewhere. Yes, Mr. Henry knows. Yes, Ms. Lorena knows. There is a God somewhere! When words alone fail, He still calls through music.

Enjoy this powerful video.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Reaching Past Dementia Through Music