A Song of Transition

I’ve always been intrigued by some movies’ ability to take us along a character’s journey. A man encounters a woman and they mock and despise one another, until at a mysterious moment they fall in love, and we buy it. Or a talentless character receives a word of encouragement from a stranger, and after some practice, he is revealed a concealed genius. How are we convinced that someone has really changed?

There maybe be several cinematic techniques going on, but one that has caught my eye is the use of music to communicate passage of time. The couple may be shouting at one another, but after a song plays, and several little scenes portray them talking and walking and dancing and laughing, we are ready for a believable kiss scene to seal the romance. Or we maybe be convinced that Rocky Balboa is a drunk loser, but after we see him practicing in the gym and trotting up the city hall stairs, with that tan-tan-tan-taaan song in the background, we know a champion is in the making. Music communicates the passage of time. Further still; it communicates the emotional enlargement necessary for a character’s inner transformation, and it takes us along with him.

This may be one of the reasons why the Christmas narratives – if we may transition to them as the season approaches – constantly erupt in song. Zechariah bursts into singing when he learns that his aged wife is pregnant with John the Baptist; a choir of angels chants from the sky when Jesus is born; aged Simeon sings when he gets to hold the baby in the temple. Almost no story passes without a song to crown the transition of a new era, and, most famously, an unsure teenage girl emerges exultant as the mother of the Messiah by articulating into melody the full range of her joy: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”[1]

Yet what sets Mary’s song apart from an expected Christmas tone is its almost Marxist revolutionary vision. After her emotional reaction, Mary moves on to words worthy of a Lenin speech at Bolshevik headquarters (minus the God-part):

[God] has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.[2]

Mary does not dwell on motherhood sentimentalities; she knows that the stake of the world order depends on the person growing in her belly. So she is not afraid to direct her song with rhetoric so world-shattering as to be later censored by dictatorships such as (how ironic!) the late Soviet union. Mary knew that her son would change the course of history, and who knows if it ever crossed her mind that he would also change the personal trajectory of those who would let him grow and move and develop in them too, and provide the decisive ingredient for inner transformation worthy of a rousing song.

René Breuel

[1] Luke 1:46-47

[2] Luke 1:52-53


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