A Melodious Life
How Polyphony & the Cantus Firmus Can Illuminate Integrity by Lauris C. Kaldjian
Over the course of my life, three areas of interest have occupied the largest portions of my study and practice: music, medicine, and ethics. As I entered upon each of these pursuits, I did not think about the transcendental properties of being they exemplify, but in retrospect I realize that, together, this trio of interests represents ways of pursuing the beautiful, the good, and the true. The theme of a conference at Notre Dame University ("You Are Beauty") encouraged me to reflect more deliberately on the interrelationships within this trio, and specifically on how beauty relates to truth and goodness in my own particular context. Regarding this context, let me note that I come to my topic not as a music theorist or historian, but as a physician and ethicist who began playing violin concertos by Bach many years before I started reading EKGs or books by Alasdair MacIntyre.
Music, especially sacred music, has been a steady consolation at times when the presence of suffering has brought dark clouds over the beautiful things of this world and I have struggled to make sense of the good and the true. Dietrich Bonhoeffer articulated this consolation in a letter (from prison) to his infant godson, saying that in the years to come music "will help to dissolve your perplexities and purify your character and sensibility, and in times of care and sorrow will keep a ground-bass of joy alive in you." For many of us, the consoling and clarifying power of musical beauty is broadly relevant to our lives, and it prompts me, as a medical ethicist, to consider how the beauty of music can illuminate one of the more perplexing problems in ethics: the problem of having to make a decision between two or more good options.
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