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SWEET INTOXICATION: THE EFFECTS OF MUSIC ON THE BRAIN AND THE SOUL
AD FONTES ACADEMY
A PROJECT SUBMITTED TO
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF
THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE CLASS OF
7 APRIL 2011
Imagine Paris during the late 19th century. As night falls, French aristocrats parade the streets in ball gowns and costumes. They proceed to the Paris Opera House eagerly awaiting the excitement which will soon be presented to them. They take their seats, close their eyes, and the rousing fanfare of the trumpets begins to sound. The music of the night has begun.
The many cantors on stage exquisitely perform and enthrall their audience with the dulcet sound. They sing:
Night time sharpens, heightens each sensation
Darkness stirs and wakes imagination.
Silently the senses abandon their defenses
Helpless to resist the notes I write
For I composed the music of the night!
With these words and with the sound, the audience is drawn into the message of sweet intoxication, the music of the night.
This was the setting of The Phantom of the Opera. Secretly, the deformed phantom becomes Christine’s angel of music, teaching the lovely girl how to sing. His music manipulates Christine, luring her down to his dark dungeon in the cellar of the opera house. The phantom then sings his sweet lullaby and slowly, deafly, Christine surrenders to her darkest fears in the arms of Morpheus, the Phantom. This was the power of music over the innocent girl; it made her believe in the darkness—even momentarily.
In 1971, during the midst of the Vietnam War, John Lennon released his song, “Imagine.” He wanted people to “imagine” a place where there are no troubles, a place where everyone gets along, and a place where all you need is love…and peace. This song became a symbol of hope for the American public and is still so popular it was played on New Year’s Eve as the countdown ball was dropped in Madison Square Garden. However, an analysis of the lyrics makes the writer’s worldview crystal clear. The song has grave meaning, yet is sugarcoated in a “happy” melody. The sound of the piano is slightly distorted. It is subtle and gives the hearer a feeling of dissonance. However, can you really imagine there is no heaven? No reward in the after life? Do you want to try to imagine that? What if above us was only sky? No God to order a chaotic world? Though no Christian should love this message, and few non-Christians would admit to this worldview, we love the song. It tickles our ears. The culture of the time had a massive impact on music, and music had a massive impact on the culture.
How does music drive our thoughts, arouse our emotions? How can one song make us happy, and the next song make us sad? Why is music played at birthdays not appropriate for funerals, graduations, or weddings? Why does a particular sound resonate in the human ear better than others? There is a deeper power in music that society may not initially recognize. Music can intensify an emotion of a particular event.
Music can arouse the listener.
Music can cause electrical impulses that make fingers tap and feet dance.
The song “Imagine,” intensified the emotions of the American public against war. Anger, sadness, and confusion were drawn together artistically and the result was this melodic song. It made people want a “better world.” It made them want to believe in something, but they were so caught up in the ideal of peace that the means to attain it were blurred. The song ironically moved its listeners to riot. Of course this effect was not only because of the song “Imagine,” there were many other anti-war songs that contributed to the confusion. If a form of art can stir your emotions and make you want to do something or believe in something you might not have believed in or done on your own, then it is imperative to become an educated, aware consumer of the art. Because music powerfully affects the brain and the soul, Christians need to recognize the esoteric power of music and discern the difference between the music of the Light and the music of the night.
Slowly, gently, Night unfurls it’s splendor.
Grasp it, sense it, tremulous and tender.
Hearing is believing, music is deceiving,
Hard as lightning, soft as candle light,
There you trust the music of the night…
To cultivate, not just intelligent, but wise musical discernment, the listener should realize: 1) music is not merely to be enjoyed, but to be processed 2) music produces a physiological and spiritual effect on the human psyche, and 3) there are different aspects of music to criticize while utilizing a Christian worldview.
In order to understand the foundation of how music affects the brain, there are a few preliminary terms that need to be defined. The quintessential issue of this argument is the difference between the brain and the mind. For the purpose of this paper, the “brain” is defined as an organ in the human body that processes information which impacts the mind. The “mind” is defined in relation to the brain as responsible for reason and distinguishes the processed information from the brain. Also, there is a distinction between music and excellent music. “Music” is defined as an auditory communication of art through organized sound which affects both the physical and mental aspect of the body. In comparison, “excellent music” is defined as music that positively impacts or influences the human soul. It also must meet the following four criteria: draw one closer to the Creator, create an avid appreciation of music and sound, be pleasing, not destructive, to the ear, and invoke active thought in the listener.
Finally, the “power of music” is the influence of music on the brain, mind, or human soul, and the New Oxford American Dictionary defines “art” as “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination.”
Before discussing the effects of music on the human brain and soul it is necessary to examine the purpose of music. Though music was created as an art, music has become an obsession. Dr. Daniel J. Levitin, a neuroscientist who works at McGill University wrote in his book, This Is Your Brain on Music,
“The music industry is one of the largest industries in the United States, employing hundreds of thousands of people. Album sales alone are a 30 billion dollar industry, and this figure doesn’t even account for concert ticket sales, the thousands of bands playing Friday nights at saloons all over North America, or the 30 billion songs that were downloaded free through peer-to-peer file sharing in 2005. Americans spend more money on music than on sex or prescription drugs.”
This obsession testifies to the unspoken power in music. Music has become a part of every day life in Western Civilization.
Silence has now become a foreign concept to American teenagers. Teenagers listen to about 17 hours of music a week.
From downloading songs from iTunes with just a click to listening to any genre of music on YouTube, anyone with a computer and Internet access can enter a new dimension—the world of sound.
Clearly we are a society that enjoys music, and why not? Music is enjoyable. However, music should not merely be enjoyed, it should be processed. Music needs to be cautiously analyzed in order to understand its message completely.
Dr. Levitin suggests that music is a complex human experience. Music can powerfully capture our thoughts or turn into the Siren’s call to the unsuspecting voyager. “Music is being used to manipulate our emotions, and we tend to accept, if not outright enjoy, the power of music to make us experience these different feelings.”
Society has succumbed to the Sirens allowing itself to drown in its dangerous trap. People want to “escape” into the mesmerizing world of “I Am the Walrus” or “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” to experience different illusions or empathize with an artist’s emotion. Music has been put on a pedestal and we sit by and enjoy the ride. Even reality television shows such as “American Idol” or “America’s Got Talent” cash in on this preoccupation with communication through organized sound.
Music is also defined as an adventure.
As stated before, you can enter a new world and explore many different genres of music. Songs that were produced in the sixties still affect some listeners as they did decades ago. Music can bring back old memories and create new ones. Yet although music can be an escape, it cannot be escaped. It is everywhere. Music is in shops, restaurants, churches, offices, our cars, and homes.
Music is also a type of communication. It can leave an unspoken message resonating in the hearer’s ear. It is a communication of thought and emotion. It can connect all types of people from around the world, giving messages of cheer such as “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Even music without lyrics can touch and move people. It establishes a connection between opposites; for example, at weddings when feuding in-laws forget their differences at the first measure of “The Wedding March.” Music can also convey a verbal message to its audience. When I say, “Oh say can you see…” what do you hear? Do you feel like standing up? The first couple notes of the Monday Night Football theme is that Siren call to leave all behind and come to the television in anticipation of a kick-off.
These examples demonstrate how music is a gift from God, given to mankind to be enjoyed and to glorify the Giver. In order to do so, music must be processed. Behind each piece of art, especially music, there is an artist. Therefore, there is a worldview. That worldview must be analyzed with caution. Listening to music is an active process. Wisdom and logic are needed to process the information, emotions, experiences, and words of the music. However, the history of music will provide a more concrete explanation as to why more caution must be taken with today’s music.
Every civilization has its distinctive music.
Even from the beginning of time, sound and music has surrounded mankind. The Israelites used their voices and instruments to praise and worship God. King David was known to possess great musical abilities, writing many of the psalms in the Bible, and playing the harp and singing when he was younger to soothe King Saul. Fast forward several centuries to the philosopher Plato who recognized the power of music and strongly wanted to censor the music of his time.
The Middle Ages owns the Gregorian chant. The Renaissance boasts of its lyrical madrigal and the Baroque era’s methodical blending of instruments and voices has made Bach, Vivaldi, and Handel renowned for time eternal. The Classical period’s geniuses: Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven gave us the dramatic music that still forms the backdrop of many modern movies. The Romantic era’s Chopin, Wagner, Brahms, and Tchaikovsky still draw audiences to operas, ballets, and concertos.
In the twentieth century, the world produced musical minds such as Debussy and Stravinsky.
As the old adage says, “History repeats itself.” One would expect the cycle of musical genius to continue. However, by the middle of the 1900s, music history was in for a drastic change. After destruction and disappointment from the Great Depression and various wars, America was searching for hope. Each decade in the 1900’s seemed to switch music genres. The roaring 20’s brought jazz, and the 30’s brought the jukebox and its happiness.
The 50’s brought rock and roll, and from there, music took on a new twist.
In 1960, the Beatles hopped “across the pond” and into the American teenager’s ear. Poet Allen Ginsberg concluded that, “The Beatles changed American consciousness.”
Not only did they promote their message of “All You Need is Love,” but they started a drastic change in music. No longer were people looking for skill and artistry in music, but an outlet for feelings and emotions. Popular music became almost all the younger generation listened to, and the obsession known as “Beatlemania” was not a fad, but a leader into the music industry as it is today.
By the 70’s, the purpose of music was distorted by rebellion. As young people rebelled against the government through peace protests, the Hippie Movement became a Siren’s call for teens to rebel against parents and make the world better through drugs, love, music, and sex. With the help of Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and others, music became centered around the way people felt and experienced life. There was no “higher power” than music itself. Undoubtedly, some of the songs they produced were good, and some were by accomplished artists, but the message they presented was at its heart, rebellion. They were so focused on the present that all they left for the future was the ruins and thoughts of “Yesterday”.
From the middle of the 19th century to present day, man has produced music for the glory of the human experience, not for the glory of God. It was enjoyed, but not processed.
Close your eyes, for your eyes will only tell the truth,
And the truth isn’t what you want to see.
In the dark it is easy to pretend, that the truth is what it ought to be…
Softly, deafening, music shall caress you…
Music also produces a physiological and spiritual effect on the human psyche, or soul. Though it is an art, music also has a distinct science to its melody and has proven to stimulate the brain. Contrary to the popular belief that music is only a part of the liberal arts, music is very mathematical and scientific. Both science and the arts interact in a complementary manner and a complete human being cannot have one without the other.
Just as it is important to differentiate between the brain and the mind, it is also crucial to differentiate between hearing and listening. Particular in music, “we use our ears to hear and our brains to listen.”
This distinction is extremely important to interpreting music. A person hears a produced sound, and the person’s mind understands the message that is produced when the sound is heard. The brain hears; the mind listens.
Though hearing is a systematic movement of sound waves to the brain, listening is more complex and can be subdivided into two aspects: active and passive. For example, an “active listener of music” is a person who is fully aware of and responsive to the perceived sounds and can typically understand and comprehend the sound that is being played. Concert-goers are active listeners. A “passive listener of music” is a person who tends to be more unresponsive to or not focused on the sounds being played. Consider mall music, shoppers do not give a second thought to the sound. However, when listening to music, a person should be actively thinking about the sound and lyrics because they too are absorbed by the soul.
Though the mind and the brain affect each other interchangeably, the brain hears the sound waves, whereas the mind analyzes meaning of the sound and interprets its message. Therefore, “when using the brain to hear, the mind needs to be fully engaged.”
Music can move people to action. Consider the physiological effects of music on the brain. In the brain, there are two hemispheres, the right and the left. The left brain is mainly, “logical, sequential, rational, analytical, objective, and looks at parts.”
The right brain is mainly, “random, intuitive, holistic synthesizing, subjective, looks at the whole.”
As Dr. Levitin explains in his book, This Is Your Brain on Music:
Musical activity involves nearly ever region of the brain that we know about, and nearly every neural subsystem. Different aspects of music are handled by different neural regions—the brain uses functional segregation for music processing, and employs a system of feature detectors whose job it is to analyze specific aspects of the musical signals, such as pitch, tempo, timbre, and so on.
The brain can further be subdivided into more parts. Dr. Levitin continues to explain how the different parts of the brain work with music:
Listening to music starts with subcortical structures—the cochlear nuclei, the brain stem, the cerebellum—and then moves up to auditory cortices on both sides of the brain. Trying to follow along with music that you know—or at least music in a style you’re familiar with, such as baroque or blues—recruits additional regions of the brain, including the hippocampus—our memory center—and subsections of the frontal lobe, particularly a region called inferior frontal cortex, which is in the lowest parts of the frontal lobe, i.e., closer to your chin than to the top of your head. Tapping along with music, either actually or just in your mind, involves the cerebellum’s timing circuits. Performing music—regardless of what instrument you play, or whether you sing, or conduct—involves the frontal lobes again for the planning of your behavior, as well as the motor cortex in the parietal lobe just underneath the top of your head, and the sensory cortex, which provides the tactile feedback that you have pressed the right key on your instrument, or moved the baton where you thought you did. Reading music involves the visual cortex, in the back of your head in the occipital lobe. Listening to or recalling lyrics invokes other language centers in the temporal and frontal lobes.
However, all of us perceive multiple dimensions of music as the brain converts the sound into higher level concepts such as meter, rhythm (or tempo), dynamics, melody, harmony.
The last four aesthetic attributes are what the brain processes when a sound is first heard. Each and every note and mark on a piece of music is designed to be where it is; even the spaces between the musical markings play an important role.
Rhythm is the, “term we use to refer to the controlled movement of music in time. Rhythm is the element of music most closely allied to body movement, to physical action.”
In layman’s terms, the rhythm is what makes people dance, tap their feet, or make a toddler want to walk to the beat. Joseph Hayden, an Austrian composer of the classical period, defined melody as, “the charm of music, and it is that which is most difficult to produce. The invention of a fine melody is a work of genius.”
The melody of a song is what makes people sing. Harmony adds depth to the melody of music and acts as a supporting role.
Harmony and melody, when beautifully and perfectly combined, can bring a man to tears. The dynamics of music are the accents that add volume and personalization, making each composition unique. A piece of music could be soft or loud, contain crescendos (growing louder) or decrescendos (growing softer). A part of the artistry of music is depicted through its sound and the four basic elements, but the other part of the artistry of music is known in the soul.
For the purpose of this thesis, emotions will be considered to be an accessory to the mind and music can intensify emotions. Emotions reside in the mind, as opposed to in the brain, which is why listening to music ought to be an active process, not passive. There will be a message behind a song because the artist has a purpose in mind, whether it be for an emotion or a message. The artist is telling the observer something; he is painting a picture. An example of this would be Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” The sonata contains no words, but moving notes which paint a tranquil lake sparkling in the moonlight’s reflection. There are three movements in the piece as it goes from a feeling of passion and sadness to happiness to near anger. Though it may seem like a rollercoaster of emotion, the music gives the audience a story as the pianist employs legato for a light press of the keys and ends with pounding them in anguish as if he is running away from something.
Music like the “Moonlight Sonata” can pass into the “deepest recesses of the soul…[The spirits of music] come to places where the light of reason has never shone. They come gliding past the gate-keeper, Reason, then censor and judge that which patrols the soul’s borders.”
Music has an immense power over the human soul. In Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” each note in the first movement moves the listener to feel sad. However, does this message of sadness say anything about the artist? Certainly, because an artist’s work is reflective of his mind and soul, “Moonlight Sonata” depicts the emotions of a musician who became deaf.
Some would say that to understand and study music, is to better understand human nature.
Sometimes music has a way of communicating thoughts and ideas to people without saying anything at all. Music does not need words to move someone to tears.
Music establishes a connection with the human soul. “At an emotional level, there is something ‘deeper’ about hearing than seeing; and something about hearing other people which fosters human relationships even more than seeing them.”
This is especially true in the case of an unborn baby or infant. Inside the mother’s womb, a baby can hear his mother’s voice and heartbeat. He can also hear the many everyday sounds that encompass the mother’s life. This music can foster the relationship between the mother and her child in a positive way. Music is life’s “soundtrack.” It is never turned off because, “a silent world is a dead world.”
Wedding music heightens happiness. Funeral music provides a release for sadness. Music can spark the cerebellum to make us want to dance or march to war. It can release tension or soften a hard heart. Music can distract us, or even help us remember just like the alphabet song, or “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”.
However, as music manipulates the mind, the gullible listener may miss the truth, or the lie. Songs such as “Revolution” reflects John Lennon’s Transcendentalist philosophy. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana reflects a message of anarchy. The messages of the two songs present hopelessness and destruction. Though the first is disguised in a pleasant melody and is “catchy,” the second is draining on the ear, somewhat annoying, and barely understandable through all the screaming. Both songs evoke strong emotions in us whether it be light or hard and oppressing.
As the British novelist, Arnold Bennett once said, “Its language is a language which the soul alone understands, but which the soul can never translate.” On the contrary, we need to translate the messages that are being presented to our souls through music, otherwise, we are being brainwashed.
“Most artists describe their work as experiments—part of a series of efforts designed to explore a common concern or to establish a viewpoint.”
Every piece of art contains a message. Whether the message is a piece of information the artist wishes to convey or a worldview pulsating through his or her fingertips, there is some sort of message that works to slip past your gatekeeper.
Hear it, feel it, secretly possess you…
Open up your mind, let your fantasies unwind,
In this darkness which you know you cannot fight,
The darkness of the music of the night…
Consequently, if music is reflective of a worldview and impacts people in physiological and spiritual aspects, how then are we to respond to music’s power? How do we evaluate music and discern what is truly “excellent”? The answer to these questions sound simple, though difficult to accomplish. In order for Christians to measure the difference between the music of the Light and the music of the night, a Christian should use what is available, the yardstick of wisdom and the plumb line of a Christian worldview.
Music is the art of communication in which words or lyrics complete an idea through organized sound. Therefore, as Christians we must, “consider the place of art in our lives…Too often we have tended to label art as inconsequential or even detrimental to the Christian life.”
This critique is too true. The arts are, in fact, very significant to the Christian life. In Isaiah and Colossians, the Bible commands us to sing.
God has woven into the very fabric of human nature a sense of creativity and artistry that comes from Him alone, and He should be our source of inspiration, not human emotion. The real questions are, “Could the truth of Christ be expressed legitimately through art? Could Christians give positive attention to the art of non-Christians?”
To answer these questions, worldview must be considered.
Dr. David Noebel, director of Summit Ministries in Manitou Springs, Colorado, defines a “worldview” as:
…The way we view our world and our place in it. A worldview answers fundamental questions such as, Why are we here? What is the meaning and purpose of life? Is there a difference between right and wrong? Is there a God? Our ideas naturally give rise to some sort of system of beliefs, a system that forms the basis for our decisions and actions. In other words, our worldview determines how we act and respond to every aspect of life.
Thus, a Christian worldview is one that encompasses every aspect of a Christian’s life including thought or action. Author Steve Turner states, “Christianity is not a mere philosophy. It is a spiritual relationship that results in changed thoughts and actions, and it will only rub off on our work if it has first of all permeated our lives.”
Worldview comes through our fingertips, revealing the message. In music, the artist or composer is able to convey an abstract thought and make it something easy to understand. An artist may choose to express a specific emotion with a specific sound, but evoke another emotion with the lyrics. An example of this would be the Beatles’ song, “Strawberry Fields Forever.” In the song, the author writes about his memories with an indifferent emotion, but the sound is calming and pleasant.
John Hodges, Director of Music at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tennessee, suggests that there are three elements to consider when analyzing music or any art. The first is what the work is saying, or the content of the work. The content of music is in the lyrics. This is the actual “written” message that is being presented to you when you listen to a song. The second is how the content is put across, or how the musical composition is speaking the content to the listener. The composition of the notes, rhythm, dynamics, melody, and harmony, is the composer’s manipulation of the sound that mediates the words or message. The third is how well is the music performed.
The performance of music is how well the performer portrays the composition and content. This aspect in evaluating art is based more on personal preference. In examining music, content, composition, and performance provide a yardstick of objectivity.
However, Hodges is not the only person to suggest a way to evaluate art. The apostle Paul writes, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
First, Paul concentrates on truth. Probe Ministries’ article on, “Art and the Christian,” elaborates on what Paul said and states that when considering art the Christian is compelled to ask, is this really true? Christians must remember that truth includes the negatives as well as the positives of reality. Second, is the aspect of nobility. This is synonymous with honor or dignity. In the very nature of man: we have dignity even though we are sinful. Third is the aspect of rightness. This indicates a moral dimension. Not all art makes a moral statement, but when it does Christians must deal with it, not ignore it. Fourth is purity which also deals with morality. The fifth aspect is loveliness or beauty. If there is little to evaluate morally and rationally, we are still free to appreciate what is beautiful in art. Sixth is what is admirable or, gives us impetus to evaluate the life and character of the artist. The greatest art is true, skillfully expressed, imaginative, and unencumbered by the personal and emotional problems of its originators. Finally, there is excellence and praise. Excellence is a comparative term and praise is concerned with the impact or the effect of the art. Great art can have power and is therefore a forceful tool of communication.
Christian philosopher, Francis Schaeffer, suggested another way of analyzing music and art as described by Turner:
Schaeffer, influenced by the Dutch art historian Hans Rookmaaker, instead proposed that we should look at works individually. Rather than asking, Is this artist saved? ask, Is this piece of work technically excellent? Is it a valid expression of the artist’s view of the world? Are form and content well integrated? Is truth communicated?
These three methods by Hodges, the apostle Paul, and Schaeffer, create a useful standard for evaluating music. The consideration of content, composition, and performance, in the light of: truth, nobility, rightness, purity, loveliness, admirability, excellence, and praise offer better discernment for music.
As there is a time for everything, it is important to note that not all music should be evaluated with equal scrutiny. Excellent music is music that positively impacts or influences the human soul. However, some music is meant for pure enjoyment. God not only created the sunrise for His people to worship Him in awe, but also to enjoy His creation. A potter may sculpt a bowl, but what use is the bowl to the potter if he cannot enjoy his labor or share it with others? By using this method to evaluate music, we can still appreciate an artist’s work, whether they are a Christian or a non-Christian. The purpose of music is to point to the Creator, but Christians still need to discern the music of the Light from the music of the night, because darkness also has a worldview.
Close your eyes start a journey through a strange new world
Leave all thoughts of the world you knew before!
Close your eyes and let music set your free!
Only then can you belong to me…
Playwright Victor Hugo once said, “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” Music is an expression of thoughts, ideas, and even language. However, some objections may be raised when considering the effects of music on the brain and the soul.
When people say, “music is an escape and does not affect me,” a warning flag must be raised. Music does affect you. Though certain types of music may affect individuals differently, music has the ability to make someone tap his foot to the beat of its sound. Music has the ability to change a person’s heart rate, to make them cry, laugh, or smile.
Music is a part of everyday life—there is no way to escape it. Even silence has been morphed into a sound. It can become an obsession and a way of life. However, claiming music can be an escape can be dangerous if one does not take caution. There is a fine line between listening to music for enjoyment and listening to music to escape reality. The enjoyment of music usually involves thinking skills. The listener evaluates the music, its quality, or its appeal to personal preference. Jesus admonishes us to, “be in the world, and not of it.” That makes us fall prey to human despair. Like the world, we can be tempted to create a false mood to make us happier or to deepen our depression, and new electronic devices can magnify these effects.
“Headphones also made the music more personal for me; it was suddenly coming form inside my head, not out there in the world.”
Have headphones changed music’s impact on the human soul? I would suggest they have. Teenagers are now allowed to listen to their personal music compared to the shared music on the radio. From Walkmans to iPods, headphones are the sidekick of music and provide a more personal way of listening to, or drowning out, sound, bringing a drastic universal change.
Parents no longer monitor what teenagers listen to as a result of headphones and transportable music devices. A teen with ear buds who is listening to music they know they should not be listening to, can just switch the song as a parent approaches. Thus, parental control is taken out of the hands of the parents and placed in the hands of teenagers listening to music that is not good for their brains, or souls. Parents need to be the leaders for their children as children will follow their examples. Guiding children in wise entertainment is the job of the family, and Christian parents should expose their children to truly excellent music which has been inspired by God. Music can be an escape, but caution and discernment must take its course.
Some Christians believe we should only listen to Christian music, but what is Christian music? Is it music that mentions the name of Jesus in a positive way or tells about His grace every five seconds? This is a misconception that has led many believers to shield their children from listening to Mozart or Andrew Lloyd Webber. The danger in this way of thinking is that some truly excellent music is being dismissed, and some shallow Christian mantras are embraced under the guise of good music.
Author Steve Turner writes in his book entitled, Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts, about how Christians are embarrassed at the low standards of Christian art.
Turner understands the immense power of music and other forms of art. He encourages Christians to enter into the arts in order to express our faith to the world and to beautifully and creatively do so. To the people who believe that you are only glorifying God if you are doing something religious, Turner offers another purpose for art.
The best art doesn’t tell people what to believe but enables them, for a short while, to see things differently, and the Christian can enable people to momentarily glimpse the world through eyes that have been touched by Christ.
Turner states that Christians in the arts
…need to dig deep and develop fresh understandings to prepare us for our art and our age…it is our duty as Christians to restrain evil and encourage good. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus referred to his followers as “salt of the earth” and “light of the world” (Matthew 5:13, 14). These images are helpful in allowing us to see what part our art can play in the overall plan of redemption.
The shallow Christian idea is that music must obviously point to God. Now this is usually appropriate, unless it is done poorly. Though there are some exceptions, songs that are too simplistic and repetitive are not well-constructed songs. Too many modern worship songs are like this in that their substance may be good, but the way they convey the message is lacking in its form. Another example would be children songs. Simplicity in music, such as “Jesus Loves Me,” is good for children to learn the message of the Gospel. However, with maturity comes understanding, and teenagers and adults have the ability to discern form, content, and performance in music. In addition, they also need to learn how to utilize a Christian worldview while discerning music. Christians have the tools to discern what is truly excellent music through its form, content, and performance.
Finally, some refuse an objective standard for good music claiming beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This view reflects a post modern worldview that everything including truth is relative. If everything is relative, than nothing is absolute. If nothing is absolute than what is truth and what is real? More to the point, what is beautiful? If there are no absolutes, there is no truth, making this absolute sentence a lie. A post-modern worldview holds that, “what’s good for you, may not be good for me, but we can agree to disagree.” Though musical preference tends to be more personal and dependent upon many factors, excellent music can be defined by music that positively impacts or influences the human soul. Good music should meet the following four criteria: it should draw one closer to the Creator, create an avid appreciation of skillfully-composed music and sound, please the ear, and invoke active thought in the listener. Excellent music is not necessarily music that mentions God, but rather it should mirror the excellence of His creation in lyrics, sounds, and performance.
The doctrine of creation teaches us that God made human beings in his image for the purpose of serving him in love and looking after the things he made. Creativity is part of that inherited image because God is a designer and maker…this means that creativity is not merely permissible, it is essential. It is what God wants. To express ourselves in art is to experience more fully the richness of being human.
According to Dr. Levitin, the artist’s goal today is to convey truth as it is now. However, if truth is so changeable, what then can really be known? The goal of the true artist is to skillfully create a work of art, and present an idea aesthetically that points to the Creator.
Floating, falling, sweet intoxication!
Touch me, trust me, savor each sensation!
Let the dream begin, let your darker side give in
To the power of the music that I write,
The power of the music of the night.
The artistry in music that has slowly faded away, can and should be resurrected. Music is a gift given to man from God that should be used in a way to glorify Him, however, music can be used to manipulate our minds. As Christians, we need to recognize the power music has over us. This is possible if the listener remembers that 1) music is not merely to be enjoyed, but to be processed, 2) music produces a physiological and spiritual effect on the human psyche, and 3) there are different aspects of music to criticize while utilizing a Christian worldview.
We are to be lovers of beauty, goodness, and truth and each aspect of our art should proclaim the redemption of our Savior in an aesthetic manner. God surrounds us with songs of deliverance.
The “Music of the Night” ends with these words:
You alone can make my song take flight,
Help me make the music of the night…
The message is dark and hopeless. The music is beautiful and intoxicating. The song is lulling and well composed. Truth can be found in the song if you look for it. The song relates how your senses can manipulate your mind and possess you. In the musical, The Phantom of the Opera, the phantom masters the weak although he himself is a weak, masked man. However, in the end, the light shines through Christine Daae and her character overcomes the darkness.
Likewise, Christians need to recognize the esoteric power of music and discern the difference between the music of the Light and the music of the night. As the lyrics from the song “Angel of Music” in the Phantom of the Opera call upon the muse of the artistic angel, so should we call upon the Holy Spirit to guide us through all music.
Angel of Music, guide and guardian, grant to me your glory.
Angel of Music, hide no longer.
Come to me, strange Angel.
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