In the 1998 Jude Law film Music from Another Room, the lead character makes an argument for love, describing it as being like “music from another room.” Whether you saw the film or liked it, there is something in the metaphor of music from another room that has stayed with me. There is something about our relationship with God that is like music from another room. In this case I do not mean to infer the “upstairs room” to which secularism would tend to relegate God. Rather, there is a room in which we often find ourselves, where, for whatever reason, we have closed our eyes and ears to God.
It is in such times that “music from another room” occasionally breaks in on our quiet ignorance. Several people have made comments here about the effect that Orthodox hymnography played in their conversion. For me, the first instance occurred during my first year of marriage. We owned very little and confined our evening life to listening to the radio (NPR), or to a record of our small collection, or occasionally a show on our old black-and-white tv.
One particular evening after supper, I turned on the radio and was suddenly greeted with music that was clearly “from another room.” I could not recall having heard such music, such that I could say, “Oh, that’s __________ music.” I said to my wife, “I don’t know what that is, but when we get to heaven this is what will be around the throne of God.” We sat quiet and transfixed as we listened. We were especially quiet waiting for the announcer to tell us the name and author of the music. We were surprised at the end that it was by Rachmaninov. It was his Vespers.
The next day I went on a search for the album. It was published by the old Melodiya label (of the Soviet Union). I bought a copy – a two record set. When I got home it turned out that side three was a misprint. I searched other stores from time to time but never found a copy with the third side. It wasn’t until many years later (with CD technology) that I ever heard the third side – though I’ve never heard a performance that rivaled the old Melodiya recording – perhaps because it was my first listen.
But it was more than music. It was a sound from a world that I could only imagine – a world you only think about in your dreams. I was no stranger to good Western Christian music – but this belonged to another world. Strangely it occurred in the same year that I was introduced to Vladimir Lossky’s Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church as well as the essays of Solzhnetisyn (it was also the year that I took one year of Russian grammar). I did not know it then, but God was opening windows and doors from another room such that the sounds and the scents, the echoes of words would begin to form something of a solid reality to me. Eventually that reality took on the shape that is its own – Orthodox Christianity.
Not every Sunday has the impact of that first hearing – but many times I hear things from the choir that are indeed from another room, only I now know that I stand inside that very room. It is the antechamber of heaven.