the richness (and importance) of music in my life

For the past few days I have been listening to a lot of music. For many, music is a major part of their lives every day. I see more and more people walking around in the grocery store and across campus with earbuds in place attached to an iPod with their favorite tunes drowning out the world around them. But perhaps it is more than just drowning out the world that they are seeking. My friends note that I am very picky about music. Others say that I just have bad taste in music, and I’m not sure which is the better assessment. I also have been called opinionated about the way I determine what I would call good music versus not good music. Most of the people with whom I dare to speak about music, frankly, do not have explicit criteria by which they evaluate music to determine its goodness. Maybe that is the way it is supposed to be. Maybe not.

At any rate, I find that I evaluate music according to two distinct standards: lyrics and musicality. Now, in my mind, these are not equal standards; I do elevate lyrical depth above musicality, which means that I like some music that really isn’t that spectacular as far as the blending of instrumentation or the talent of the singer/musicians is concerned but has lyrics that are either rich in their depth of expression and/or excellent poetry. The question, however, arises in my mind, is music meant to be judged in these ways? Music is essentially poetry set to a rhythm. (As I write this, I ponder my legitimacy to make any judgments.) Music could also be rhythm without lyrics. The Lord has blessed me with some musical talent; I play the violin and have been playing for 13 years. (Gosh, that makes me feel old! Such a long time ago!) I was concert master of my high school orchestra and earned places in our regional competitions every year. And our high school orchestras were consistently among the top orchestras of the state of Texas, since we had the best director. So, as far as genres of music are concerned, I intensely enjoy classical music, having acquired a taste for it having performed classical music for years–though we were also known to play Beatles music from time to time! When lyrics are included, I seek music that exalts Jesus Christ. I think the primary purpose that God created man with a heart that longs to express itself in the form of music is to worship him. Now, that does not necessarily mean that I only enjoy so-called “praise and worship songs.” As I sit here, (at least at this moment, until the track switches), I am listening to Derek Webb sing a song entitled “I Repent.” Why do I enjoy this song; why do I think it is a “good” song? The rhythm evokes certain emotions from me. Fundamentally, music is an expression of the emotions of the singers/musicians. But music also has the power to draw out emotions from its listeners. Therefore, when I declare a song to be good, what I mean essentially is that the rhythms and blending of instrumentation works with the lyrics to elicit from me an appropriate emotional response. What is an appropriate response? Well, what emotions was the song written to convey? This is the question that I think most people in our day and age do not care to ask. Music, like any other composition, is meant to be interpreted however the listener desires to interpret it. So, the postmodern mentality says that a song may be interpreted however any individual wishes to interpret it, just as a text may be interpreted any way an individual wishes to interpret it. I disagree. Texts have authors who wrote what they wrote to convey certain ideas. Those ideas are the ideas readers of texts should be seeking. Now, texts may also convey emotional overtones that an author may intend for the readers to feel and experience, but I think music is able to do this much more effectively. Words have certain connotations that do convey a certain element of emotion, and stringing words together in certain ways, as exemplified in poetry for example, should draw out from a reader of poetry certain emotional responses. Music adds another element to the mixture, with sounds and rhythms that (should) aid the lyrics in conveying a certain emotion that the musician desires to convey. Musicians are communicators who emphasize the communication of emotions. They (I think, for the most part anyway) desire to share with others emotions that they have experienced in order to give expression to experience. When a listener relates to the experience of the musician, the listener is better able to experience the emotion that the musician intends to convey.

The Psalms are songs collected into a book. These psalms are not all the same, as is often assumed. These songs are the emotional expressions of a thousand different emotions, and not all of the emotions expressed in these songs are positive “Oh, how I love Jesus” kinds of lyrics. Sometimes, when I read them, I try to imagine what the accompaniment might have sounded like to each of the psalms, to help me feel what the writer was trying to convey. When David says, “Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me!” in Psalm 35, I do not imagine that the accompaniment is light and gentle. I imagine a fast-paced, aggressive, panicky style of accompaniment. David is expressing his desire for God to take vengeance on David’s enemies. He is crying out for the Lord to act in judgment. He goes on to ask the Lord, “How long, O Lord, will you look on? Rescue me from their destruction, my precious life from the lions!” David is desperate for God to act on his behalf. He is pleading with the Lord to hurry. These are not just angry poetry; each was written to be sung, and the collection of psalms that we have in our Bibles is the hymn book of the Jewish people. And so it should also be our hymn book as Christians. In it, we find true confessions, expressions of anger against God, expressions of the deepest questions a man could ever ask, feelings of fear and hopelessness, and also the deepest expressions of worship, adoration, praise, thankfulness, and faith in the God who breathed out these words to be recorded for all time, for our instruction and our edification.

Oh, I have gone on a tangent! My point is supposed to be that I love music and I need music in my life. Often, I forget that and go weeks and even months without just sitting with my iPod playing music. I am worse for the wear during these times because I do not express my emotions very well. Most men do not. I think that is one of the beauties of music; it helps us men express our emotions. For me, I would have to say that often it helps me feel my emotions! The heart of a man is much more complex than we would like to admit, the deep things that go on in a man’s heart need expression just as much as anything else. I think the reason our expressions of anger often come out so aggressively and so surprisingly to ourselves and those who witness our outbursts is because we do not practice expressing all of our emotions. Music helps me do this. I try to identify what I need to express and select my music to cultivate those emotions. Also, as a side note, it is interesting that the Lord so often commands our emotions in the Bible. The Lord often commands that we rejoice, commands that we love, commands that we feel sorrow. I am unable to conjure up those feelings sometimes because I am so focused on my circumstances. Well, if I am feeling depressed, for example, and I know that I need to figure out some way to be rejoicing, I can play some music that has lyrics that remind me of God’s faithfulness and has instrumentation that is upbeat and exciting, and then I can often move from depression to joy! In fact, good music might remedy much depression in the church.

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Published in: on March 22, 2008 at 8:46 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I must suggest you mention “Jars of Clay” as being your biggest inspiration, too. Otherwise, we have ourselves an incomplete post.

    Cheers.

  2. I didn’t notice Hwy 178 mentioned?????


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