A maxim reads, “Show me your friends and I will tell you what kind of man you are.” Similarly we can say, “Show me what kind of music you listen to and I will tell you what kind of man you are.” Such a statement may seem absurd or unreasonable and at the very best a matter of opinion. For surely, you may ask, how could one’s musical tastes be used to determine one’s thoughts, desire, or characteristics. The character of youth in particular is so flexible that an abstract thing such as music could not possible produce a positive idea or determination as to what their qualities may be. But let us be a bit constructive and look into the matter. We may also determine what music young people should listen to. For that is the positive aspect of the matter.
WHAT IS MUSIC?
We may define music as an expressive or intelligible combination of tones or sounds having rhythm and melody. These sounds are produced by setting up vibrations of varying degrees which produce musical tones. Tones produced by the use of different materials or methods vary in intensity, resonance and expression. In combination they produce sounds that may be pleasant or unpleasant to the ear but only harmonies produced according to general techniques of music writing are music.
Such a definition of music is proper but in itself lacks the necessary elements to produce a perspective for our evaluation to it. Music is the many moods of men. It is utterance, assertion, indication, representation, interpretation; it is suggestive, forceful and graphic. Music is a medium of expression, a gift of God to compliment man’s speech. Through the medium of music, man’s joy, sorrows, victories, defeats, conflicts of the soul, and superficial expression are revealed as he combines tones with rhythm to represent his particular mood and accent his verbal expression.
That such is the case no one can deny. One who is skilled in the art of listening to music easily recognizes in a composition the intent of the composer, whether it is to produce a musical picture of a place or an event, or whether it be the image of his soul. A skilled listener can easily feel the relationship between the words and music, whether fitting or not. But one need not be skilled in the listener’s art to feel the movement of music. All its implications many not be recognized but music impels the listener to be aware of the emotion, tenderness, sympathy, fervor, eagerness, zeal or passion that is present with it. Who has not thrilled to a stirring march, or listened with rapture to a full organ rendition of a masterful composition, or sat with mixed feeling of joy and sorrow at the funeral of a loved one while a comforting hymn was played or sung. Music imparts a definite something that cannot be overlooked in its effects upon us.
The church and the world have long used music as an expression of their way of life. Although similarities in purpose may seem to exist, their music type differs.
It is difficult to define good sacred music since there is no one attribute that makes music sacred. Great composers have long since used the same style of writing in both their sacred and non-sacred music. However, music comes as close as possible to what we mean by the word ‘sacred,’ when the typical secular harmonies, rhythms and general techniques of writing are not present. A careful wedding of words and music are an inherent quality of sacred music. Sacred music, as an expression of a Christian’s life, is recognized by its particular union of music and words whether the mood expressed be joy or sorrow or whether the music be simple or complex. God is a God of order. Sacred music is therefore orderly. God is to be honored and praised. Sacred music honors and praises God. God is the source of all our comfort through Christ Jesus our Lord. Sacred music speaks of the peace of mind that comfort brings. Although sung in many tongues and played on many instruments, sacred music always has those recognizable attributes.
The simple but heartfelt psalms set to music or the profound messages of Handel’s “Messiah” are but examples of the distinct character of sacred music.
Secular music is distinguished from sacred music in its lack of sincerity and depth of purpose. Its composition does not emanate from a regenerated spirit but from unregenerated man. While evil in its intended purpose, the music is a commentary of the life and loves and languishes of human nature. And although interpretive of man’s earthly, carnal thoughts, it in some small way displays God’s gift of music to man. Classical music in various forms as well as simple lyrics set to music generally fall in secular classification. Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” and “Old Black Joe” are typical examples.
Popular music is an outgrowth of man’s complete rebellion against God. Its syncopated beat or uneven rhythm is representative of man’s ruthless existence and unsettled moods. The sentimental style which is used in our present day popular music is indicative of the sensual spirit of man as he woos his fellows into emotional ecstasy and attempts to sooth his own godless spirit. Any similarity to sacred music is purely co-incidental and even when and attempt is made by a popular song writer to adapt sacred music to his use it is obvious that the reprobate heart is not attuned to God. God is not mocked. Man’s true character is clearly shown as he gives it expression in popular music. “Sentimental Journey” “Beer Barrel Polka,” “Memphis Blues,” “Tiger Rag,” and “Hound Dog” typically bring God and His precepts into disrepute and blaringly hold forth the precepts of unregenerate man.
LISTENING – BY WHAT STANDARDS
To hear is to have the sense or faculty of perceiving sound. And although to hear does not necessarily imply attention or application, any act of hearing by man causes a reaction I his heart. The man of sin responds against God: the new man in Christ rebels against sin and praises God. The sound of the wind blowing causes blessing and cursing for that sound also affects the human soul. So it also is with the sound of music. For music always has a message.
It is therefore important that we hear and listen to the proper sound and messages. We must filter out the base and deceitful sound that reaches our ear and become deaf to those of like kind. On the other hand we must digest and use those that have a message for the Christian’s renewed heart. Christ exhorts us in Mark 4: 24 to “Take heed what ye hear: with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given.” And in Luke 8:18 Christ also tells us to “Take heed therefore how ye hear.” To hear is to listen and to listen is to harken, to give heed, to yield to advice.
The church listens and in her listening she is discerning. To be discerning she also cultivates a good musical discrimination. And in our musical discrimination we must consider the implied meaning in each music classification and separate them by discerning differences. Our existence as Protestant Reformed Churches testifies that the antithesis must be maintained. Our position in the world carries with it the obligation to also use the gift of music for the glory of God and the praise of His name. “No man can serve two masters: – Ye cannot serve God and
Mammon.” Matthew 6:24.
Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth also when you listen to music.