Lyrical Shapes of Fatherly Love by Ken Myers

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From Heavenly Harmony

Lyrical Shapes of Fatherly Love

When my son was seven or eight, he was plagued by various fears at bedtime that kept him from falling asleep. In an effort to provide some form of comfort, I gave him a small cassette player that had a decent speaker to place on his bedside table and set about to make him a mix tape. As a professional audio producer with lots of elaborate gear at hand—and as a parent long concerned about the responsibility of helping to form the imagination of my children—this was a natural response. My efforts soon resulted in a cassette inscribed with a single word written with a black felt-tip pen: "Palestrina." My son was soon being soothed by sound from the sixteenth century.

Not all of the music written by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c. 1525–1594) would be suitable for bedtime listening. There are, after all, around 500 choral works in his catalog, including 104 settings of the Mass and 250 motets fulfilling a wide range of liturgical and theological ends. Mournful lament and glorious ecstasy are to be heard in his works, but always guided by confident (rather than cautious) restraint. The Danish musicologist Knud Jeppesen once wrote: "Judging from his art he seems to have been of an earnest, quiet disposition, and to have been characterized by a certain gentle manliness combined with aristocratic reserve, and a pronounced natural aptitude for the harmonious."

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Ken Myers is the host and producer of the Mars Hill Audio Journal. Formerly an arts editor with National Public Radio, he also served as editor of Eternity, the Evangelical monthly magazine, and This World, the quarterly predecessor to First Things. He also serves as music director at All Saints Anglican Church in Ivy, Virginia. He is a contributing editor for Touchstone.

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