Philippians 4:8, "Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things."

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Karen Dunning's great response to the article I quoted below:

The first guy is inaccurate in a lot of his musical analysis. Bach did not follow the rules. He was constantly breaking the rules. And I don't know why older people should begin to like Bach more, but it has nothing to do with him being a "rigorous disciplinarian". I find that many musicians have a hard time understanding Bach until they've spent many years in the pursuit of musical excellence. Bach is a totally different aesthetic than we have today. The music of the classical and romantic composers is much more accessible to us because of our movie music. It's very dramatic and harmonically stretched. Many people think Bach is boring. As my father used to say it sounds like finger exercises. I contend that that is because most musicians today play it as if it were a finger exercise. There is a woman who plays Bach better than anyone I've ever heard and it is gloriously musical.

But, the article also seems to make the point that staying in the rules is what makes something "christian". And then does he infer that rock music does not stay within the rules? That contradicts his view that it is mediocre. He seems very confused.

In reality I find rock music to be mostly boring. They don't have innovative and interesting harmonic language for the most part. There are, of course, exceptions to that. There is some really pretty rock, or more appropriately, popular music. I generally can't listen to it for a long period because I get bored. But I find that it has little to do with being Christian or not. The only argument I could understand for that would be about orderliness. It seems to me that heightened rhythmic impulse would be more organizational, not satanic. Again, too much of the rhythm track gets to be boring. So, I guess I would be more concerned about being bored than not Christian.

He also makes the argument about primitive music vs western music, but there is also the question of christian vs pagan music. Western music has a harmonic language that is rich and organizational. There are clear goals and you know when you arrive. That has broken down to some extent in the 20th century but the good art music still acknowledges that. Eastern music is rambling and has no real sense of time or harmonic direction. There is no goal and you don't know when you arrive. When I think of Indian or even New Age music I think of sameness and boring. I usually fall asleep. I'm sure you can understand the difference in philosophical approach to the two different styles. Primitive music, in the sense of currently existent primitive cultures, tends to be more rhythmic than harmonic. I'm not sure that's a bad thing. They at least have a sense of timing. I have a really hard time teaching my buddhist students to count or even value timing.

He also makes the point that many rock musicians could not play Chopin or Brahms. While that is true, I'm not sure what that has to do with being suitable for Christian worship. There is very little subtlety in rock music. Perhaps that is something that could be useful for worship. Certainly, they don't practice any of the various techniques for timbre or qualities of sound that can be produced. Not many people today appreciate the artistic coloring of different artists. I think everything we do should be to the best of our ability. I think there is a certain virtue in rigorous discipline and pursuit of excellence. I'm not sure that should be allowed to stop people from worshiping to the best of their ability, even if it's not perfect. I'm sure God looks upon your intent as much as your follow through.

The other guy seemed to be saying that you have to have the old forms of worship in order for it to be comfortable, understandable and useful. That's true to some extent, but I don't think it means you can't have new music. It's not automatically bad just because it's popular. It doesn't necessarily mean you are giving in to the culture wars just because you use the musical idiom of the day. That german hymnody he touts was once the popular music of that day. My guess is that Bach used some of the popular music of his day, etc. I can understand the desire to be separated from the bad part of the culture, but you know that there are some parts that have virtue. There are virtuous movies. Christians don't say don't look at any movie.

I think there has probably always been this tension between the culture of the day and Christianity. At different times the church has responded in different ways. I think we need to be careful how we respond. In our church we tend to emphasize understanding what the issues are and what is really important. I think if it is taught correctly and we understand what music is really for and that the important part is what you are thinking, it doesn't really matter what form the music takes. It's more about your job than mine.

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