I suspect we would all be better off if we took more seriously these words from Ecclesiastes: "Be not rash with your mouth, and let not your heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and you on earth: therefore let your words be few." To me, this admonition has always seemed particularly apropos of the Easter season—a time of holy fear and trembling, a period of solemn meditation that culminates in celebration and resurrection glory.
Now, I love a lot of sacred choral music, particularly at Easter; the glorious second half of Handel's Messiah is just one of many examples. But my own meditations through Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Resurrection Sunday seem better suited to instrumental music—and there are two records, in particular, that I play every year to put my heart and mind in the right place.
One—Peter Gabriel's Passion—is a "world music" classic from one of the biggest pop stars of the 80s; parts of it were used to soundtrack a Martin Scorsese movie. The other—John Coltrane's A Love Supreme—is an avowed jazz classic from a saxophone shaman with cosmic intuitions. Easter music? That's how they speak to me, and they do so in their own mystic tongue. They speak to a sense of piety that I dare say transcends the limitations of mere words.
Gabriel's Passion (1989) is, by necessity, the first part of the two; it speaks less to the resurrection than it does the sufferings of Christ, making it a spooky and soul-shattering soundtrack to a contemplative Maundy Thursday and a solemn Good Friday. The album was conceived by Gabriel as a musical meditation on the trials of our Lord in his final days, and the spiritual resonance seems unmistakable—enough that ...1