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'God's hand is in it'

Music | FOX News' Lauren Green analyzes why Handel's Messiah 'is more than just a nice piece'

Issue: "2009 Daniel of the Year," Dec. 19, 2009

Lauren Green was third runner up in the 1985 Miss America contest and a winner of the talent competition for playing immaculately a Chopin etude, "Opus #4 in C Sharp." She continued her music while working as a television journalist in Minnesota, Chicago, and New York: She entered the Van Cliburn Competition and has written a fascinating theoretical essay about the connection of music, physics, and faith.

Green grew up going to church and Sunday school. Today she goes to Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York and is a FOX News religious correspondent. One continuity throughout the years, since she was 17 and first heard Handel's Messiah, is her love for the piece that is played and sung in hundreds of cities every December.

One reason for her fascination: The Messiah "is the only piece of music that has the narrative of redemption put to music. It's all scriptural; it is God's plan for humanity and it's the only piece like this in the world." She notes that Handel wrote it when he was "at the end of his rope. After being the toast of England he became a broken man, financially, physically, and emotionally."

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She recalls many legends about how Handel wrote the three-hour oratorio in about three weeks. One is that "when Handel was composing the 'Hallelujah!' chorus, his servant came in on him (he had been locking himself up in his study) and found Handel weeping. He said to his servant, 'I do believe I've seen the gates of Heaven.' I believe he did, because when you study the musical tonality of it and how it affects us, you say, 'this is more than just a nice piece. God's hand is in it.'"

When she analyzed the "Hallelujah!" chorus, she found "this incredible tonal center that was being uplifted. That made sense, because when you look at the Ten Commandments, everything is defined first by its relationship to God and second by its relationship to everything else. The Ten Commandments are a hierarchical system in which the First Commandment is primary, and everything else falls in line because of it. You can't break Commandments 2 through 10 without first violating No. 1, which is, "I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before Me."

How does that connect with music? There "you have a fundamental note that has overtones, and the overtones are created when a string vibrates. When a string vibrates, it vibrates in the half, the quarter, the third, and all the way up, and these vibrations create overtones according to a mathematical equation related to the fundamental note. These overtones help form the harmonic series, or the major scales. . . . So when you write something like Handel's Messiah, which has an incredible working out of that harmonic system, you create stronger and stronger tonal centers."

She concludes, "In Bach's time, which is Handel's time as well (they were born the same year), they tempered the scale so that every note is the same distance apart. I realized, 'It's glorifying the tonal center. That's exactly what's going on. If you go to psychologists they will tell you that in man's innate nature he needs to glorify, he needs to worship and pour out his soul into something outside of him. Music creates this opportunity, not just because it creates these tonal centers, because it's vibratory. It resonates within us. Even if you're deaf, it still resonates."

To hear Marvin Olasky interview Lauren Green, click the following links: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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