The Music Controversy

          To write a post on Music is like opening a very large bag full of live butterflies. We all love our music and most of us have very strong opinions about it. People will get riled about music like they get riled about nothing else. Perhaps this is because the the subtly influential, and emotional power of music. It was said by William Congreve, “Music has charms to sooth a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak." Music can be used to inspire to, build up, to glorify God, but can be equally wielded by the devil to gain passageway into our hearts. People who listen to dark music often, start thinking dark thoughts which can lead to the committing of all sorts of dark deeds, and the converse is also true. This is why we must be so careful about what we let in through the “ear gate” into our minds and, by extension, into our hearts. However, we must not forget that Music is a glorious gift from God, it is man who has twisted it into something evil. Luther, the fiery German reformer said, “He who does not find music an inexpressible miracle of the Lord is truly a clod and is not worthy to be considered a man!” Definitely very strong, but if you think about it, what person doesn't intensely enjoy a particular kind of music, and aren't we all dead, a valley of dry bones, without Christ? Whatever the case may be, music is definitely worth a Christian's earnest study. If we were to try to count every style which exists, we would be at it all day because there are as many kinds of music as there are different kinds of people in the world. There are, however, about ten main categories into which most music fits: Rock, Pop, Classical, Bluegrass, Folk, hip-hop, Rhythm and blues, Jazz, Barbershop, and Country.

        Rock is hard for me, personally, to classify. I used to say that it is anything with a syncopated beat, but often Pop also has syncopation. Now I would say that Rock is anything in which the beat is so loudly emphasized that you can hardly hear any other part. Rock also includes heavy metal, which is a sub category all its own, but it has an extremely predominant syncopation, which is usually so loud that it shakes the people and things around it. I think you all have heard it and know what I mean.

        Pop does not have as emphasized a beat. The principal emphasis is the vocalist. However the melody is often hard to follow and is not carried by anything other than the singer’s voice (This is true for rock as well).

        Classical is a certain kind of music that was written at a certain time period. Most of it was written from the end of the sixteen hundreds to the beginning of the eighteen hundreds, and was written by composers such as Bach, Mozart, Hayden, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Mendelssohn Purcell, Handel and many others. It has a variety of moods to it but is music in which there is no emphasized beat at all, while most of it is purely instrumental, some of the composers would write chorals and operas which were meant to be sung. Classical also includes sacred music, which is yet another sub category, including hymns and songs written in four part harmony for congregations and church choirs.

        Bluegrass is strictly American. Most Bluegrass bands include a guitar, fiddle, banjo, mandolin, sometimes a string bass and and/or harmonica. Also there can be two, three, or four vocalists in what is called a “stack.” a baritone or bass sings at the “bottom”, a tenor on the “top”, and one or two singing between those two pitches, or if a female is added, she would be the top of the “stack”. The music is often described as having a “high and lonesome” sound, and is usually sung with a nice “southern twang.” Most of you have probably heard it. The music itself originated from a mix of Appalachian, Scottish and Irish Jigs, English sea shanties etc. Usually, you either love it or you hate it. For myself I love it.

        Folk music can be divided into two types. The first is normally very old and nobody knows who the composer is. It belongs to a particular people or culture and is sung by the common people who have sung and played it for many generations; many nursery rhymes fall into this category. The other type of folk music is music that is written to sound like the first type. But the composer is known. Many times it’s just the old folk music played or sung in a different way. To summarize: “[Folk] is the music of the ordinary people played, or sung, by ordinary people. It is for anyone to play however they like!”

       Hip-hop music is a genre that is most often known as rap: a vocalist chanting to a heavy beat. This is a very popular genre of music and one of the main components of what is considered “Hip Hop culture”. Which I will not describe as it will lead off topic.

       Rhythm and Blues, often abbreviated to R&B and Rnb, is a genre of popular African-American music that originated in the 1940s. The term was originally used by record companies to describe recordings marketed predominantly to urban African-Americans, at a time when “urbane, rocking, jazz based music with a heavy, insistent beat” was becoming more popular. To get a feel for what this genre is, one needs to actually hear a few songs from it, for example, "White Christmas," and "Straighten up And Fly Right," by Nat King Cole, are both songs you may have heard which fall into this category.

        Jazz is music in which the saxophone is the predominant instrument and often drums as well. It originated in the early 20th century from a mixture of African and European music traditions. There are many different styles of Jazz some include New Orleans Jazz, which originated around 1910, punk Jazz, Ethno Jazz, Rock Jazz, Afro-Cuban Jazz and Latin Jazz.

          Barbershop is a Quartet made up of four men, a tenor, a lead, a baritone and a bass. The lead carries the melody, the tenor sings harmony above him, the bass sings at the bottom, and the baritone sings between the lead and the bass. The tunes are usually easy to follow and the words are understandable, which in today’s musical world is unusual. The name comes from the Elizabethan era when barbers did not just cut hair but also pulled teeth and performed minor surgeries. People would go there just to sit around and hear the latest news and often men would sing or play instruments while they waited. At first they would just sing in unison and then they started harmonizing by ear. The style died off around the turn of the twentieth century but experienced a revival in the 1930's around the time that the Barbershop Harmony Society was founded. Currently Barbershop is a recognized genre with a large number of fans including myself.

        Country music is a genre of American popular music that began in the rural regions of the southern United States in the 1920s. It takes its roots from southeastern American Folk music and Western Music. Blues modes have been used extensively throughout its recorded history. Country music often consists of ballads and dance tunes with generally simple forms and harmonies accompanied by mostly string instruments such as banjos, electric guitars and acoustic guitars, fiddles and, also, harmonicas. The name of country music gained popularity in the 1940s over the term hillbilly music, which was generally a Southern term. “Country music” is used today to describe many styles and subgenres such as: Appalachian Folk (which is also a sub-category of Folk), Cowboy\Western music, Christian Country music, Swamp music, Bluegrass and many, many more. Johnny Cash was one of the legendary artists in this genre. To get an idea of what Country embodies, try listening to his song, "I walk the Line."

We have now walked through the most popular musical genres of this day. I'm sincerely hoping I didn't miss any! However, the Christian today looks them over and throws up his hands in despair. Is all music good? He asks, is it just the words we have to be careful of, or does the tune matter as well?   Firstly, I do want to say that music wields immense power very subtly. It has a way of sneaking into our heads, wrapping it's tendrils around our pillars of logic and reshaping our emotions in ways we can't even begin to realize. Because one can listen to any sort of music and not immediately notice any physical effects, unlike smoking weed or drinking to the point of intoxication, it is more easily dismissed as harmless. However, I think if we realized how strong emotions can get, we might not dismiss the power music wields so flippantly. Be warned, if you came here hoping for a list of music that you as a Christian may listen to, you aren't going to get it. I am not even going to tell you whether I think a particular genre is evil or not, or even a particular song. Because music's key power is over the emotional composition of a person, what may be wonderful or relaxing for one person can very well be emotionally draining on another. Mind, this doesn't mean that music is a gray area. No, I think if you earnestly seek it, you will find a very clear line on which you can stand, but the line isn't in the same place for every person and I want to emphasize that right now. Keeping this in mind, allow me to share with you some observations of my own, which I hope will help you think about music a little more earnestly as I did.

      A while ago there was an experiment involving the musical effects on plants. A plant was  put into a room with nothing in it except speakers. For a month the experimenters played only classical music in the room. The plant grew and flourished and its vines entwined about the speakers and became very beautiful. The next month pelted heavy metal and hard rock on the same plant in the exact same room. The plant drew back from the speakers, shrank noticeably and by the end of the month it looked rather sickly. The Classical music was returned, the plant regained its former vitality. So why do I share this illustration? People are not plants, however, if music has such an effect on plants, created by the same Creator who formed us out of the dust of the earth, we ought to wonder, what kind of effect, withering, or rejuvenating does the music we listen to have on our lives? I've often wanted to try this same experiment on a person who has listened only to rock or heavy metal for most of his life. I wanted to plop him in an environment where most or all of the music he hears is classical and see what kind of effects it had. So far, I haven't met anyone willing to try the experiment...perhaps someday I will and if so, will happily share the results with you all even if no difference results or the classical music hurts more than helps, but I digress. By now you can probably tell that I am biased but who isn't? That's why I gave the illustration of an unbiased test subject to begin my soliloquy on this rather prickly subject.

 So now, on to the pith. The verse I would use to analyze this topic is Philippians 4:8.

        “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is honorable, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence, and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”

    Bear with me as we go through these categories one at a time.

         First of all, is it true? Do we really want to listen to or sing songs that propagate lies? For example, if a song is proclaiming that, God thought of “me” above all, is that really true? Didn’t He die for a lot of others besides me? Didn’t He also do it for His own glory? So when we sing that when Jesus died on the cross, “he thought of me above all”, are we really proclaiming the truth? This is something to consider; just because it is a song, doesn’t make it acceptable.

         Secondly, is it Right? I believe it is true that we are going to bow down and worship God but is it really necessary to repeat it five times? Didn't Jesus himself say that when one prays one should not use endless repetition? And are not are songs to be as prayers to God; whether of worship, confession, or thankfulness?  These days most of my problems are with modern praise and worship music, where the same line, often rather mushy is repeated again and again as though the author couldn't think up anything of substance to put in its place.There is a place for repetition I think, as in many wonderful refrains, and sometimes we need repetition to really remember things as, like the Israelites, forget constantly, but like everything, it must be done in moderation, and I'd encourage you all to think this through as you compile your playlists. Something else to consider, is whether the tune fits the words you're singing. If you have a dance tune coupled with a song of confession, wouldn't that seem a little inappropriate? Remember that music plays with the emotions, and if the tune doesn't fit the words, the song can make one feel as though serious things are not to be taken seriously and matters of little consequence must be mulled over at length.

        Third. Is it Pure? This is one is pretty simple, though more easily caught in the words than the music itself, but sometimes, the tune and arrangement of a song, or even the tone of the singer can be suggestive of impurity in it's own right. Does the music you are listening to cause you to think impure thoughts, or arouse unrighteous desire of any kind? If so,consider dropping it in the figurative waste basket of your memory.

        Fourth. Is it Lovely? Now you have to be honest here. Does the music you listen to make you think of words like, “ beautiful”, “grand”, “lovely”, “awe inspiring” ? Or does it cause you to think of words like “cool”, “fun”, “bouncy”, “makes me feel good?" Now, there are a lot of wholesome songs that are fun and bouncy, but if those are the only reasons you can delve up as to why you should listen to it, perhaps you should seriously reassess your tastes. Honestly consider this and don’t  allow yourself to belive that since it is comfortable it is also lovely.

Fifth. Is it Honorable? This is a case of vast importance which I believe is seriously overlooked in today's Christian culture. The culture of rebellion which became glorified in the seventies continues its rampage both openly and subtly. Does the song you are considering honor God, your parents, your civil rulers? If it fails the test of any one of these, don't let your mind dwell on it. Also, be aware for music that makes you angry or rebellious can work on your subconscious in very lasting ways. So much of today's music is born out of dishonor and hate for God and authority and it permeates the minds of its listeners so, I beg you, if in no other area, take yourself to task when it comes to these emotions and ideas displayed and propagated in music.

        Sixth. Is it of good repute? This is a matter of being a good witness for Christ, sometimes music that may not be inherently evil should be disregarded because of an evil reputation. There are some bands out there that blatantly proclaim lies, and hate God's name, perhaps they've written a few decent songs, but if the reputation of this band precedes them, it might be better to give it up. This is a thin line to walk as we also need to remember that everyone is flawed and we can't throw out everything penned by flawed people, otherwise even the gospels would have to go. I think this is a matter of personal prayer and evaluation for each individual. The Lord is faithful to His own, and He will make it clear to you if a certain song dishonors him by the reputation it carries. I personally feel that the connotation associated with death metal and hard rock is strong enough that if for no other reason than that, I want to keep away from it. Godly people in my life have coupled it with couch potatoes, lazy loafers, and violent gangs. I want to keep my life clear from that, and live fully in the light. Portraying to the world that light can have no fellowship with darkness. Once again, please remember, though I have set forth a personal preference, remember that it is different for each person, situation and temperament, to use and overused phrase, please don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

         Through all this I want you to remember that we are all different and all have different tastes. Christians are not meant to be cookie cut outs of one another and just as there is not a Christian uniform, there is also not necessarily a "Christian music". So just because your Christian friends only listen to sacred music, it doesn't mean you have to as well, their opinion is not as important as God's. Also, do be loving about all this. Please don't use Philippians 4:8 as a hammer with which to pound to smithereens the musical pets and peeves of your acquaintances. Remember that like Jesus, we must go out into the world with an equal balance of grace and truth.

        Finally, I would pose one last question. If Jesus were to visit you in human form, is there any kind of music that you like to listen to which you would be ashamed to play in his visible presence? Do keep in mind that He is always with us, though we so easily forget it. Let us bring Him praise with the music we listen to.


Noel Venegas said...

Wow Christianna... Thank you for your insights and descriptions of music! This was interesting and enjoyable to read. Keep seeking Jesus in all your areas of life (especially music ;) )!