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ANCIENT SOUNDS
June 2, 2005
 
It's dark this early in the morning, even in daylight savings time. I am listening to a very old Mass, so old that the line in it between east and west is not very sharp, as it would later become: broad, wide-open intervals, naturals where a modern ear really expects sharps, uncovered vocal tones, all combining to create a fierce and ancient sound. This music is from a time long before we got the cardboard fans, free from the funeral parlor, with tender pictures of Jesus with the little children and a few sheep on them. It was another church when this Mass was new. Not much tenderness in this music

I want to go there. Take me beneath history's journey and back, back. Let me go and hear them, let me see them on their hard benches in the dark, see the flicker of their one candle, smell the soot, the wet wool, the generations of incense and unwashed bodies in their dark chapel. Why is it, in the timelessness of God, that my body cannot somehow follow my spirit to the ancient home of this music, journey back to join these forebears to whom I would look frightening, a bumptious giantess in a blue bathrobe, who ruins their music with her vibrato?

Because of course, I would ruin it. The music and everything else -- I would alter it by my presence in a place and a time where I do not belong. In each age, there is only room for what is. Everyone else must wait her turn.

I think all ages are combined in the dominion of God -- past, present, future, all one. But the dominion of God is not time travel: we won't get to do what I would love to do, visit those bodily moments of sound and smell and sight, like tourists who have always wanted to see Florence. It will be different -- is different right now, has always been different. I will enjoy this CD: it is as close as I am going to get to them.

The ancients thought that everything here on earth stood for something in heaven -- that they lived in a poor reflection of a world more real than the one they saw and sensed, a world refined of all its coarseness, pure. That this world was gross, coarse in its material nature. And so it is: it is dying from the moment of its birth. They knew this better than we allow ourselves to know it today, and they smelled the faint whiff of decay in the sweetest rose.

In their music, they said what I say now when I listen to it: Take me out. Lift me from the days that snap after each other like a shuffling deck of cards. Take me beneath the story of this life to a still place, somewhere unwrinkled, uninjured. And, when they finished singing, they went on with life as they knew it then: fetching water and wood, making cakes of flour and water, sweeping the floor.

It is time to shower, dress, take my pills and walk to the train. To stop at the post office, if there is time, and buy a cup of tea from the Indian lady at the station. Onward.
Copyright © 2018 Barbara Crafton
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