Dear Young People,
Music, whether good or bad, has profound influences on us. Good music has good influences; bad music has bad influences.
Bad music breaks, in one way or another, laws for music God has imbedded in the creation. The laws or rules for God- pleasing music are laws of rhythm, harmony, tempo, beat, etc., all of which combine to make up good music.
Wicked music began with Jubal, whose name has been preserved in the English language in such words as jubilee, jubilation, etc., although these words have come to be used for good music, rather than bad music. This is strange, for one would never speak of rap music for example, as an expression of jubilation.
I write what I have to say in the following with the awareness that different kinds of music arise in different cultures. I am told, for example, that Chinese music is based on a 12 or 16 note “octave” rather than the traditional Western “octave” of eight notes. (In fact, the word “octave” implies eight notes before the first note is repeated an octave higher on the musical scale.) I am not acquainted with Chinese music and cannot be judge of the rightness or wrongness of eight- note octaves or 12-note octaves. I would appreciate it if some Chinese musician among you forum members would enlighten me on this matter; although I insist that whatever may be the truth of the matter, all music, whether Oriental or Western, has to obey God’s rules for music.
Music can be either good or bad in its own right, without regard for the lyrics (the words of the stanzas). Music in itself can be either pleasing to God or distasteful to God. A symphony by a gifted musician (such as Beethoven’s “Pastoral Symphony”) is edifying and inspiring. Rock and Roll music is distasteful in the extreme and is ungodly.
How can music be corrupted? There are many ways in which music is corrupted. Music can be corrupted by disharmony, which is characteristic of most jazz. I read a book by the noted musician and conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein, which defended jazz primarily because of its intricate movements, complex chords and original combinations of rhythm. I do not doubt that jazz can be and often is extremely complex, but whether extreme complexity makes music good is quite another question. Some (if not most) philosophical systems are very complex; but complexity does not make them right. The same is true of music. The fact remains that much of jazz is disharmony.
Music that lacks harmony is as irritating as a fingernail being scratched along a blackboard. One shivers at the sound.
Harmony belongs to God and is given to God’s people in grace. The Biblical attribute of peace, so often mentioned in Scripture and so desirable, is harmony. A peaceful home is a home where there is harmony, for everyone is in basic and fundamental agreement about doctrine and life. A disharmonious home is one where there is incessant squabbling, disagreement and argument. We are to pray earnestly and strive mightily for the peace of the church (Psalm 122, Eph. 4:1-4). Such a church is characterized by harmony. When we have peace with God (Rom. 5:1) then we and God are in perfect harmony: His thoughts are our thoughts; His will is our will; His glory is His goal and the goal of our life. Nothing is more desirable than peace with God; nothing is to be feared more disharmony between God and us.
Discordant music, therefore, arises out of a world at war with God, where there is no peace, and expresses a love for that which is at odds with God. Just as blobs of color smeared on a canvas and called art convey the idea of the chaos of sin, so does discordant music convey the lack of harmony between man and God.
Another wrong with worldly music is the lack of melody. The author whom I quoted in the last article pointed that out. Melody is primarily responsible for the theme of the music. The other notes in the chords are supportive of the melody, explain it, enrich it, give it color and serve as a foundation on which the melody is built. I often think of a four-part choir as something like a cathedral, the theme of which is worship of God. The bass in a choir is the foundation on which all the music stands firm. The tenor is comparable to the lofty spires that read towards heaven. The alto or contralto gives the color to the chord. Even worldly musicians sometimes call the alto singer a coloratura. The soprano carries the melody and is therefore the theme of the music.
Modern music has no melody. Rock and Roll has not melody. Rap music abandons melody altogether. The result is a senseless and meaningless conglomeration of raucous sounds without meaning and significance. Its only distinguishable characteristic is a driving beat.
We must remember, however, that even such music has influence on those who listen to it. They are, by the music, taught not only the total disregard of wicked men for orderliness in life, but they are taught that life is meaningless and without purpose. Life has no goal, no delightful end, nothing to look forward to. Life is as chaotic as the music to which people listen.
Good music gives to the listener a sense of the majestic, the sublime, the glory of the God who reveals himself in all he does as God alone. It lifts one up and directs one to things beyond himself. It soars to the skies and points us to God who is majestic beyond description.
Another wrong in music of the world is its emphasis on rhythm. Harmony means nothing. All that counts is rhythm. This is closely associated, of course, with melody, but it is distinct. The driving beat of rock, hard rock, and rap music is all that counts. There is no melody. When I am waiting for a red light and a convertible pulls up next to me with the beat of rock music at 100 decibels, it literally hits me in the pit of my stomach. Yet this is the music that draws thousands of fans and inspires in them screaming, dancing, bellowing and ecstasies of enjoyment.
Several writers who warn against rock music of all kinds, point out, correctly, that the beat of rock music is a recovery of the beat of drums among pagan peoples who perform to the beat of their drums the lewd dances of worship to their gods. In fact, many of these writers claim that pagan drumbeats, capable of driving people into a frenzy and sometimes into a hypnotic state, do so because the beat is similar to and is intended to arouse, in one who listens, the rhythms of sex. I think this is true and is the explanation for the popularity of such music, the frenzy into which the listeners fall, and the licentiousness of the dances that go on in time with the beat. It is no wonder then that the lyrics, such as they are, are all about sex, drugs, rebellion, emptiness of life, death, murder, mayhem, etc.
But there is also wrong religious music. But we will discuss that, the Lord willing, next time.
With our love in the Lord,
Written by: Prof. Herman Hanko | Issue 10