Music: A Critical Balance
Why is music an important issue in Christianity today? Is there really anything to the issue that merits a discussion? Well, let’s start at the very beginning. When God created the world and the universe He created everything for our good. From the sunlight to the ocean tide, it was all created for us and for our benefit. At the same time, God devised all the physical laws that govern His creation. Among those are the physics that are used every time we hear a sound. When we hear sound organized in a certain fashion according to God-ordained mathematical ratios, we call it music. The music we hear produced by a vibrating string on an instrument is following the physical rules that God made. So, we can say that God created music. In fact, science has discovered that music exists throughout creation, as it has revealed that everything from planets to atoms vibrate at some frequency just like the strings on an instrument. God also created us to be able to understand on one level or another the music that we hear.
When man fell in the garden the sin curse affected God’s entire creation. Nothing was exempt. Sinful man began to invent ways to violate God’s holiness by using His creation in ways it was never intended to be used. For example, plant life has been used to make mind-altering drugs. Hands created for work now kill. The beautiful marriage relationship has been defiled. Even the balance in music has been upset. All that was good has been polluted by sin and can become evil—even music.
Before coming to Eastland Baptist Church as the Music Pastor, I had a 14-year career as a recording engineer and producer where I was afforded the privilege of producing dozens of CDs and hundreds of songs. In the modern recording studio, instead of recording everyone in the same room at the same time, songs are often assembled part by part, track by track, each contributing to the overall feel and sound of a particular song. While I was in the recording process, and each part came to the studio and was recorded, I was always intrigued on how each individual part contributed to the song as a whole. After all the tracks were completely recorded, I had the job of mixing or blending them all together. Again, I was amazed at how a slight change in balance among the parts affected the entire flavor of the song. Each part contributed to one or more of the three main elements of music: melody, harmony, and rhythm. When any of these tracks were subdued or amplified and their contribution to the three elements altered, the effect was profound. My job at that point in the process was to find the ideal balance among the parts (and consequently the three musical elements) so that the music communicated what the lyrics were saying.
Each of the three elements is necessary for a song to hold together. For example, without rhythm a song would have no life or pulse; without harmony it would have no reason; and without melody it would have no meaning. Many have equated melody, harmony, and rhythm to the trichotomy of man: spirit, mind, and body, respectively. When a song is designed with an emphasis on one of these three elements over the others, it will communicate to the listener on that element’s level. In other words, a song that exhibits a beautiful melody will speak to a person’s spirit. A song whose harmony is well structured will engage the mind. And a song whose emphasis is rhythm will move the body. Never does one element address the other two parts of man. I must say here though, that it is difficult to isolate melody and harmony and rhythm entirely. Melody will have some rhythm and imply some harmony. Harmony will also have some rhythm and can induce a melody. Rhythm, however, can live alone and is scientifically understood to actually bypass the conscience mind.
This is significant when we examine the music of our culture at large. It is undisputedly saturated with rhythm. When you walk through the mall, highly rhythmic music is pouring out nearly every store front you pass. Most eating establishments not only feed your mouth, but also feed your ears with a large portion of pounding tunes. Most television and radio commercials employ the same. You won’t hear a sports highlight broadcast without it being teamed up with a strong, pulsating soundtrack. Music that emphasizes rhythm over melody or harmony is everywhere in our culture. Is this true simply because most people just prefer this music? The ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, in Music and Philosophy, said, “In order to take the spiritual temperature of an individual or society, one must mark the music.” So, taking Plato’s advice, what does the music of our society say about us?
Since we know that rhythm communicates directly to the body, we could deduce that our society is obsessed with the physical. That is not hard to believe at all. Is there not a strong emphasis on outward beauty and physical attraction? Everywhere you look there are advertisements for beauty products to make you more attractive. Most entertainment on television or movies has some unrealistic display of good-looking people in appealing relationships.
If our culture is consumed with physical and the music they choose to accompany their lives says the same, should the Christian’s music both in church and in their personal life communicate the same message or something different? In Ephesians 5 Paul lists a number of things that should not be once named among you, as becometh saints; and that we should have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, much of which is present in the world and its music. There are clear reasons why the Christian’s music should not sound like the world’s music. We should concern ourselves with our spiritual wellbeing, and the music we choose to listen to and worship with should help us in that endeavor.