Tag Archives: music

Music-making and bonding in multicultural churches

(Old Facebook Post)

This is fascinating! As someone who has spent significant time pondering and reading about to what extent musical languages are universal, this article corroborates my conclusions. (Musical languages are mostly not universal. This challenges a lot of conservative assumptions about “good” and “bad” music and the “inevitable” effect certain kinds of music will have upon a person.)

Worship Across the Racial Divide: Religious Music and the Multiracial Congregation Buy on Amazon But this article (and the book reviewed) also surprise me with another idea: apparently musical success in a multicultural church is determined less by the extent to which multiple musical styles are incorporated into the worship service than by the extent to which the group bonds around any style in mutual, shared music-making. In other words, give more effort to including everyone in making music together (use all the local talent you can awaken, involve everyone) and lose less sleep trying to include the traditional musics of each sub-culture in your church. The later is good, but apparently not absolutely essential for congregational satisfaction.

I suspect there are additional considerations not mentioned in the article: What about newcomers to the church, who may face a musical language they do not know and in which they have not yet participated in musical fellowship? What about musical language differences that are so large that it is hard for people to begin entering into a true fellowship of shared music making? In such cases, would it not be better to begin the shared music-making process with a mixture of musical languages that are closer to what people already know?


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On borrowing pagan musical forms

(Old Facebook Post – Revised)

I find hard to believe that heavenly music will be restricted to the styles of 16th to 19th century Europe. The Bible itself demonstrates the appropriateness of borrowing from other musical cultures:

“It is clear that Israel’s psalms have in some places happily taken over Canaanite poetic meter, imagery, and even aspects of their mythology and utilized it all in extolling the unique sovereign and providential power of YHWH.” – Christopher Wright, The Mission of God (footnote on page 443)

I’ve done some study of how music “means,” looking both at music history and at some scientific literature. I’ve concluded that there is some intrinsic emotional meaning to some sounds (for example, sudden, loud or fast sounds tend to increase the excitement level–or, more accurately according to scientific literature, it is unexpected sounds that do this, so an unexpected silence can achieve the same), but that most of the meaning/affective power of music comes from the extrinsic associations we bind up with a particular kind of sound, thanks to our past history and teaching regarding that kind of sound. What we hear and enjoy in our adolescence/youth tends to become the norm by which we experience and compare all other musics we subsequently hear throughout life.

(I’ve heard a story of an ex-Satanist fleeing a church because of the organ music of Bach, which had been used in his Satanic cult, and another story of a mother and infant in severe distress during birth, until medical personnel were convinced to play her favorite heavy metal music–at which point the baby’s heart rate calmed down, as did the mother, and the birth proceeded successfully.)

I think much fundamentalist/conservative Anabaptist teaching regarding music is a reactionary theology, developed on the “battlefield” in response to the rock and roll music revolution, during which time certain sounds were connected quite closely by a majority of musicians with an evil lifestyle. Those concerns were valid for the time. However, such music today is does not carry those evil associations to a majority of listeners and performers, being innocent enough to be useable for radio jingles and children’s educational songs.

The suitability of musical sounds is an important question, yes, but the deeper question is whether the musician is using sound to bless God and neighbor. David used pagan poetic meters to praise Yahweh.


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