So Saul said to his servants, ‘Provide for me someone who can play well, and bring him to me.’ One of the young men answered, ‘I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite who is skilful in playing, a man of valour, a warrior, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence; and the Lord is with him.’ -- 1 Samuel 16:17-18
David might have been the youngest son, but in the Bible youngest sons often far outshine their elder brothers. David was out tending sheep when Samuel came to visit while his brothers were participating in a feast in Samuel's honor. Samuel had a mission and who was the winner of the search Samuel was conducting? The shepherd-son who had to be summoned from the field when his partying brothers were each rejected. David seemed to be destined for greatness; he had it all -- good looks, strength, an ability to think on his feet, a good reputation, a dedication to God and a surprising hobby or ability.
Saul had lots of problems, one of which seemed to be a severe form of depression. What seemed to help was music, so Saul sought a musician who could soothe the beast within and bring the king relief. One of his servants knew of someone, brought him to court and the saga of Saul and David began with a song.
Music is useful. It can be as soothing as a lullaby or as frenetic as the loudest heavy metal band. It expresses love or reflection or
"She stole my heart, then she stole my truck with my dog in it." The guy whistling in the warehouse probably feels like he's performing in Carnegie Hall, and those performing in Carnegie Hall have practiced for hours in small studios or the living room of their house. It spans cultures and times, and it can be sacred or secular. The muse beckons and the result is someone writing something or performing something, whether for a large audience or simply for one's own sake, creates something new that could have wide-reaching results.
David is credited with a number of psalms, hymns to God covering just about every possible human emotion, undoubtedly some to be sung to the sound of the harp and other instruments. They were hymns but they were prayers as well, for blessings and curses, joys and sorrows, command and surrender, resistance and yielding. They are a part of our tradition and part of our worship, with or without music. Even when just read as text, they suggest the music that lingers just out of hearing.
I have used music is much as Saul used it -- to combat depression, boost my flagging spirits, give me energy, calm me down, keep me on an even keel, even to be like a Buddhist prayer wheel set in motion and serving as ongoing prayer without me truly articulating that constant prayer. My muse, my iPod, is with me constantly, a friend like David who could soothe my depression or raise my soul to the highest heaven. It keeps me in touch with God, just as David's psalms and hymns did for him. I promise, though, that I won't be quite as enthusiastic as David was once -- when he scandalized his wife by singing and dancing naked before the ark of the covenant and, as they would say back home, "In front of God and everybody!"
What can I learn from David? There's a quotation often wrongly attributed to Shakespeare, "Music hath
charms to soothe the savage breast,
To soften rocks, or bend a knotted
oak,"* that reminds me of the power of music and how David and others could use it to help and to heal. Another thing is that sometimes the easiest way to remember something is to put it to a catchy tune or, in the case of the psalms, a chant. And whether it's writing, singing, dancing, studying astronomy, or recounting history, creativity comes when it is fostered with care and when the inspiration is sought. When I need inspiration, there's just one thing to do and that's ask for it.
Choose the muse.