Remember when our songs were just like prayer
Like gospel hymns that you called in the air
Come down, come down sweet reverence
Unto my simple house and ring … and ring.
This is the first lyric of the poignant tune Stable Song, by Gregory Alan Isakov from his album That Sea, The Gambler. Try as I might, I may not be able to capture the unique and indescribable moment of inspiration quite like these simple words. I feel like this is hinting at something more than inspiration though … perhaps even an annunciation.
That tall grass grows high and brown
Well I dragged you straight in the muddy ground
And you sent me back to where I roam
Well I cursed and I cried, but now I know
Now I know.
And I ran back to that hollow again
The moon was just a sliver back then
And I ached for my heart like some tin man
When it came, oh it beat and it boiled and it rang
Oh, its ringing.
The imagery here is layered and beautiful and I think it describes a very rare and strange event. Certainly Mr. Isakov is referencing inspiration, most likely musical inspiration, but I will (as all great art requires) inject a personal and prismatic intent which layers it a bit more than musical inspiration.
Come down, come down sweet reverence
Unto my simple house and ring
Can you recall the story of Pope Gregory and his dove? It is a tradition that details the late 6th century clergyman’s reception of the beautiful chant melodies of the liturgy. The myth holds that a dove descended unto the shoulder of Gregory, who dictated the whispered heavenly tunes to a nearby scribe. Though Gregory indeed had much to do with the transcription of these chants, nearly all were oral tradition from Greek, Hebrew, and Syrian music. Ok, so a lovely farce. But it is a beautiful and time-tested image which has also once again installed the dove as the bringer of divine inspiration (and musical!)
The dove is a special bird and one that usually brings with it special things. In fact, throughout the world in fairy-tales and stories, doves often signify something divinely chosen, such as a true king. Somehow the bird also came to represent that part of the divine that could not be represented by the physical – the spirit, and sometimes even divine authority and authorship.
Perhaps this avis’ most beautiful moment came in the first century when the Spirit in the fashion of a dove descended upon the head of Jesus as he rose from the waters of the Jordan River. This white-winged annunciation completely cemented an already rich history of allegory and imagery regarding the bird and its ushering forth the metaphysical in the physical.
This actually is why I love the story of Pope Gregory so much, as I think many musicians do, even if it is utter nonsense. I know, quite intensely, I wish this for myself each time I sit in front of a piano or hover a pencil over a sheet of staff paper. I am listening. Listening for what though?
And here is the truth. I have no idea.
I never have. So strange is the idea of inspiration and the spirit to me that if I am being honest I have to say that I am guessing half the time. And the music only gets better when I stop trying to maintain any modicum of control and allow this “guessing” to take hold. The music is invariably better and always makes more sense in a deep and layered way. How crazy. It makes me wonder about transferring this idea into the whole being, not just musically or artistically.
What man could possibly control this dove that descends from the heavenly spheres bringing with it a divine message, musical or not? I think whether we are composers or not, we are waiting for a dove to descend upon our shoulder to whisper some truth, some answer, to speak into our lives in some magical way. All too often (and common in composers too!) we, as Mr. Isakov suggests, drag into the muddy ground cursing and crying, begging and pleading, railing…sometimes for something small and sometimes for something immense, like our tin man hearts, somehow strangely missing.
But what a joy is this: The dove sometimes comes whisperings little annunciations to us as a great gift if we will receive it. The proclamations are so precious. And Mr. Isakov gives us a grand vision: the dove carrying our heart, and when it comes it is beating and boiling! It is on fire! And it is ringing…and singing.
And it turns us back into the wild haired gale. Turns our faces back into the howling gusts of hope.
Come inspiration. Bring annunciation.
This tin man needs his heart back.