Thursday, March 22, 2007

Music Meanings

One of my classes--Christian Philosophy--involves a discussion about spirituality in the media. We are currently reading through Craig Detweiler and Barry Taylor's book A Matrix of Meanings: Finding God in Pop Culture. For each of the chapters, I write a response. What follows was my response to the chapter on Music.

Music has always been an artistic expression of the heart. Over the last century there has been a movement to define “Christian” music separate from “secular” music. Many artists have blended this line, however, by singing very spiritual songs that are not specifically Christian.

1) I have often debated in my own mind whether there can even be a distinction between a “Christian” group and “secular” group. Even the groups that claim to be exclusively “Christian” in nature can have less spiritually beneficial content than a group in which no members are Christians. So, even if such a distinction could be made, would it be a beneficial division to base one’s listening preferences on? I feel just as uplifted by Creed’s “Higher” as by Steven Curtis Chapman’s “Be Still”. Who’s “Christian?” I think the answer is “Yes.”

2) The cyclical nature of music can also be very intriguing. Music is affected and created by the society it is surrounded by. It then returns to that society and is placed in new contexts and given new meaning. Musical genres are accepted and rejected by the culture they enter. Some claim that certain genres negatively affect youth. However, there must have been some disaffected youth that created that genre to begin with. Music is both creator and created, and that dynamic is difficult for many to understand.

3) I appreciated the point that the author made about the church forsaking symbols and now attempting to return to them. The church should more frequently be willing to accept artistic expressions of faith. Music that asks deep spiritual questions should be presented alongside songs of praise to God. (It reminds me of a collection I once read called “Psalms.”) We have little to fear if we let our searching come alive. Not all songs need to be praise. I think our questions and our artistic representations are also pleasing to God.


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2 comments:

  1. The discussion of faith music is usually not about music at all, rather lyric content. I am one who feels that music has the ability to transcend mere words. Check out John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme".
    I would say that the conscious classification of Christian music as a genre is a marketing device. That is not meant as a criticism. I think that it was probably borne from consumers buying records in which they were disappointed with the lyrical content. Thus, it’s a supply and demand situation. As an artist when you attach yourself to a genre/label you also attach yourself to constraints, both creative and potential audience. Ironically, the most commercially viable acts eschew the label (U2, Creed, As I Lay Dying). Classifying music is always related to business. On the other hand, when I speak to musicians/lyricists of any genre they often speak of inspiration coming from an outside source or, sometimes more specifically God.

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