music and liturgy

The first music I loved was on tape. It was Rich Mullins, "Winds of Heaven, Stuff of Earth," and I was probably about twelve years old. I graduated to CD soon enough, and my little collection consisted mostly of the free discs dad brought home from the radio station - Amy Grant's "Heart in Motion" (and my signed picture), Steven Curtis Chapman's great adventure.

Then in high school I regressed back to tapes, because tapes were what played in my '88 camry. The Hootie and the Blowfish tape I made of the cd I found when I was babysitting at the Whitlock's house. The recordings Caedmon's Call made before they were signed to a label.

Technology changed again. We had napster, and I was sampling new things, mp3 files burned to disc: Rosie Thomas, Dar Williams, Ani Difranco, Toad the Wet Sprocket.

But through all those changes, my listening was always limited to the collection that I owned, and as I result I really treasured albums, and I listened to almost all of them until I knew all the words by heart. The music was important to me.

Then in my twenties there was isohunt, and peer to peer sharing, and then pandora, and then rdio and spotify, and now I can listen to (or even "own") almost anything I want, at any time, and in practically any place.

The abundant availability of music made it harder to value, enjoy, and be moved by. It wasn't worth as much. So it didn't mean as much. It was digital, taking up no space in my life at all. It was overconsumption of something that was as light as air.

This is why, three or four years ago, Jack and I decided to quit peer to peer sharing. We deleted all (ok, not all, but most) of our illegally gained mp3 files. It's also why we bought a record player and started actually purchasing music again, this time on vinyl.

Now, when we get new music, it means something. It's an investment, and it takes up space in our house, so we also invest our time listening to it and letting it grow space in our hearts.

Recently I've felt that listening to music on a record player is something like the liturgy and eucharist at our Episcopal church. Listening to a record is a very physical process. I don't type a name in a search box; I kneel and flip through record sleeves. I stand, and lift the lid, and place the needle just right. The music requires attention, and after a few songs, I move to turn the record over. The records, and the player, take up physical space in my life, a rooted kind of space. They require a physical response. They require attention. They are repeated. Place, roots, physical response, attention, repetition: these not only signal that what I'm doing means something, but they create meaning as well.