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Posts Tagged ‘musical styles’

I once heard a refutation of the idea that music isn’t important; only lyrics are.  A pianist sat on his bench and told us to close our eyes, picturing Cinderella in her ball gown.  He played a gentle waltz while he kept describing her meeting the prince, taking his hand, and beginning to dance.  But while he talked, the music changed into the eerie, dark whine of a scary movie soundtrack.  Then all of a sudden, the music went choppy and light, high little notes running like ballerina steps across my imagination, erasing all attempts to keep Cinderella there in my mind’s eye.  Like a dream where rationality leaves you to the whim of memory’s slideshow on random, shaped into a story, the music carried me beyond any intention of feeling or thought. 

When discussing the pro’s and con’s of speaking in tongues, Paul offered this interesting illustration:  “And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped?  For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?”  Sounds matter.  We interpret sounds.  For the music to have any purpose, it has to do something to us. 

And music does affect us.  There is soothing music, rousing music, happy music, sad music, romantic music, even angry music.  The music and its effects are amoral.  There is nothing good or evil about a certain tune.  However, there are several ways to affect the morality of a song.  Most obvious is adding lyrics with a moral content.  If a tune is associated with a certain immoral practice or belief, its impact on people familiar with it cannot be edifying.  Also, if the volume or other special effects cause physical pain (headaches, heart palpitations, or difficulty breathing), that music is immoral.  Finally, when a style of music is brought into an inappropriate circumstance, it can be wrong.  Take Cinderella.  To play the full moon music while she is dancing is not helpful.  Or the situation could be worse.  Times exist for everything under heaven, including anger, but when one has no right to be angry, listening to angry music encourages a mood of violence rather than forgiveness or peace. 

To believe that music is powerless, that a song is ok as long as its lyrics are not wicked, is dangerous.  I have known unsuspecting young people who begin to listen to a style of music that is heavy and dark, depressed and angry.  They do not expect to be affected by the music, but gradually they settle into a mood that mirrors their music, until the music is the creator and true expression of their identity.  I invite you to imagine what happens when a teenager becomes constantly depressed and angry.  Relationships are ruined.  Schoolwork fails.  They are tempted into further association with the dark and the violent. 

Why the obsession with loud music?  I don’t necessarily mean the music so loud and disorderly that the cacophony directs the listener to insanity.  I’m talking about simple volume.  God calls us to be sober, to do everything heartily.  Passive entertainment, I contend, is not godly.  I believe we should interact with our music, not have it attack us.  If ears are in pain, why not turn it down?  And whether there is pain at individual notes, if the over all tension of the music gives headaches, why endure such torment?  When the bass is so strong that it seems to have gotten way beyond modesty and penetrated your skin, pounding against your organs, why pursue that style of music?  Is it that we have become numb, our relational experience leaving us unable to feel without stimulation – even painful stimulation? 

Music can be employed to direct moods.  David played his harp for Saul and cured his fits of temper.  A romantic dinner is that much more romantic if the violins play sweetly in the background.  Carnivals play fast, fun music to heighten the sense of wonder.  Who doesn’t appreciate a good movie soundtrack? 

One common use of music is in “worship,” the part of a traditional church service in which praises, testimonials, or encouragements are offered in the form of songs.  Worship is in vogue right now, the subject of dozens of books, conferences, and contemporary Christian music CD’s.  Churches are trying hard to create worship experiences.  Bands practice during the week and present their “worship” concerts complete with strobe lights, smoke, bass guitars, drums, and exciting videos with the words scrolling across for the audience to sing along.    Some churches light candles.  All this to get people in the mood to worship.  A more energetic band will get the audience to jump up and down and to clap its praise.  The contemplative environment with little altars for worshiping through pottery-making or painting or eating crackers and drinking juice, lit by soft scented candles is more likely to evoke tears.  Either way the people walk away with an experience, feeling that they have been through something important that touched their heart. 

Is that what worship should look like?  Is that even worship?  What is the purpose of worship, and what styles of music and other arts are aligned with those objectives?  What about worship together?  Isn’t the point to be with each other, rather than isolated by volume and darkness?  When creating an “environment conducive to worship,” should churches manipulate people into energies and emotions not already inspired by meeting, knowing, and walking with Almighty God?  If we as people are not willing to lift up our voices in thanksgiving and praise, lament and victory to our God – without being drowned out by the drums and the pervading bass – are we not merely flattering God? 

How dangerous is it to do worship our way, in a way we enjoy and in which we are gifted?  What if those ways detract from the purposes on which worship is built?  Is the focus on God or on the band or on the audience?  I have heard worship described as therapy.  Should we participate for healing and comfort, for strengthening?  What sorts?  We know that offering worship their own way caused the death of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron the priest.  Did God give any sort of specific instruction, example, or definition which we might be profaning through our creative expressions?  Should we sing in church?  Are those melodies to be directed as praises, or as encouragement to those around us? 

I am concerned at how many gifted musicians use the gathering of Christians to springboard into a musical career.  If the band is supposed to be leading worship – an endeavor doubtful in its biblical foundations already – what are they doing with microphones and amps that power over the congregation’s voices?  Why sell CD’s and t-shirts boasting the band’s name?  Is this about people bringing the sacrifice of praise, or about people having a good time and enjoying a concert?  Can bad or inappropriate music prevent an atmosphere conducive to worship? 

The Psalms direct the whole earth to make a joyful noise unto the Lord.  How can we reject anyone’s joyful offering?  Is everything we “enjoy” joyful?  Perhaps the screaming and growling sometimes passed off as singing is fun for those doing it.  So might be roller coaster rides or even the thrill of stealing candy at the grocery store register, but those things are not considered to be worship. 

Music is powerful.  God is mighty.  Worship is meaningful.  God is worthy. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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