Music Twisting Part 5

Here is the next installment of my high school term paper. Enjoy!

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One of the other helpful resources I have drawn from in my research are the writings of secular people. I was surprised and a bit saddened by what I discovered. The musicians of the world know exactly what they are doing, while we Christians are ignorant of those very things.

Kimberly Smith writes about a phenomenon called entrainment. This can be seen in the grocery store, when you suddenly realize that you are walking to the beat of the music playing over the speakers. I’ve noticed this innumerable times. Our bodies literally match the music by stepping, breathing, or even changing our heartbeat to the music we are listening to. These physiological happenings are caused by rhythm. There are many kinds of brainwaves that our brains can be entrained into with music; alpha brainwaves being the restful, relaxed ones that can be caused by calm, peaceful sounds such as the waves on a beach, sounds of nature, and songs with very little or no climax. Entrainment can also work to get us into an opposite state, where we get up and dance, and contort our bodies in wild frenzies of uncontrolled movement.

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This wilder state can be caused by the groove that some drummers like to get into with their highly addictive back beat. Mickey Hart, the drummer for The Grateful Dead has some insight into this groove:

The back beat is one kind of drum groove; it’s the essential one for rock and roll. I had      heard… of the phenomenon of rhythmic entrainment that rock and jazz musicians call “the groove.” I had even fleetingly experienced it, but Bill taught me to trust in it, to let it draw me in like a tractor beam.

Kimberly Smith adds that “this is the beginning of trance. Mickey also admits that he had to be careful not to let himself go too far into the trance state, because the quality of his drumming would be lost.” (p.53)

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The dangers of rock music can be seen in our physical bodies. Kimberly cites a study done on rock music.
Stress and addiction: A driving drum rhythm in excess of three to four beats per seconds will put the brain into a state of stress, regardless if the listener likes or dislikes the music. And when the brain is in this stressful state, it will release opioids – a group         of natural hormones that function like morphine – to help return itself to normal equilibrium and sense of well-being. These natural opioids, if experienced often enough, can be addicting, creating in the listener the continued desire for that “high,” somewhat like the high runners experience.” (p. 23)

In another book,  The Show I’ll Never Forget, Rebecca Brown records the experiences of her childhood surrounding the Beatles concert she saw in Spain. She and her older brother and sister were so obsessed with the Beatles, that Rebecca’s teacher called in her mother to discuss her obsession. Her essays were on the Beatles; in art, she drew them and their hairstyles and guitars; she even did math with the number of their recordings and their ages.

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The Brown family constantly listened to the Beatles’ recordings and her sister began wearing tighter and more revealing clothing. They were all disrespectful to their father, who did not approve of their music choices. Her brother ditched his accordion and took up guitar. Later he and the older sister turned to pot, heavy metal, acid, and acid rock.  Meanwhile, Rebecca is still ‘true’ to the Beatles and plays their records for her grandchildren and those of her female spouse so “all of us can scream and dance.”

This next quote also deals with the Beatles:

            To teenagers everywhere in the late 1950s, rock ‘n roll was the rallying cry, the raw, combustible sound that connected them to one another, defined their adolescence, and provided a voice with which they could express themselves. The music touched on everything teenagers were grappling with: angst, impatience, love, sexuality, insecurity, rebellion, and fantasy-all hooked up to a powerful suggestive beat. The name alone captured the future Beatles’ imaginations. Rock ‘n roll suggested thrills, something loud and disruptive, a certain disobedience in the way they could dance to it and what it said. The excitement of the music broke through all the boundaries, carrying listeners to places unknown. “When I hear good rock,” John [Lennon] said, “I just fall apart and I have no other interest in life. The world could be ending if rock ‘n roll is playing.” (Spitz, p. 15)

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Notice that all the things teenagers are “grappling with” are either a twisting of good things (love), a result of sin (insecurity), or sin itself (rebellion). This quote is showing us that rock music is the rallying cry of a sinful world. Wow.

There have been studies done comparing concerts done by secular rock bands and Christian rock bands. The findings? The audience acts in the exact same way whether the lyrics are about the party they’ll have in hell or a beach in California with the Christian girls.

Before I get into other types of music that are used wrongly, let me share some information I have paraphrased from A Natural History of the Piano.

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There is rhythm in all of life, breathing, heart beating, walking, etc. Western music has cycles of such rhythm, and composers court it, carefully going round and round the chosen rhythm with variations and contrasts. Beethoven enjoyed upsetting metrical regularity. He turned the rhythm upside down and put accents where they were unexpected because of the laws of the metric system. This 20th century approach was known as syncopation. This rhythm was especially used in music for dancing, where it started in taverns, saloons, and bars. The rhythm, according to many including bandleader Martin Ballmann who said in 1972 “[It] sends one’s blood tingling.” Hiram K. Moder concurred; “I felt my blood thumping in tune, my muscles twitching to the rhythm.” (Isacoff pp. 162-167)

It should be clarified that syncopation is not always bad. It can be a very good thing, but when used in the wrong way it can be overpowering and become a bad thing, just like anything else.

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But it’s not just rock ‘n roll that’s bad. Jazz has a mellowed form of the back beat – harder to notice, but subtly tempting. Blues and ragtime can have the same techniques that we saw with the one, TWO, three, FOUR beat. Even some softer songs can have the emphasis on the wrong beats in the music itself, without a drum making it obvious. I have seen this in many songs written even for church.

Come back for part 6!

Music Twisting Part 4

Part four is here.

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          In Ephesians 5:17-20, we read, “Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God.”

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What a rich passage! It really makes a case for us to study God’s Word in that first verse as there are so many things to understand! We need to be wise in these troubled days, for the days are evil. Jesus will be coming back again, and it may be very soon.

One thing that I have found extremely helpful in understanding music is what Kimberly Smith explained in her book Music and Morals: dispelling the myth of Amoral music. She wrote that there are normally four beats in a measure of music: 1, 2, 3, 4. In good, wholesome music, the first beat is prominent, with the third a little less prominent: ONE two Three four. We see this in most hymn music, classical music before the 1900s, and some folk music in various cultures.

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On the other hand, in various music that is purposefully played to rebel against God and lead people away from Him, we see something very different. In music performed for voodoo dances and other satanic and evil worship times, the beat sequence is swapped: one TWO three FOUR. A variation of this would be to have a drum pound out every beat without emphasis on a single one. When this is done, it goes against the natural beauty of the music of God’s creation, and is used in rebellion against Him.

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If you are interested in reading more on this aspect of music, I would highly recommend that you read Music and Morals by Kimberly Smith. She brings out many things that I only have a small grasp on, and she has read many books, including one written by Mickey Hart, a talented drummer who traveled the world in search of the spirit behind the beat that he played. Her research is invaluable.

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But to continue on with Ephesians. I wonder if we could imagine for a moment the apostle Paul in a dark prison cell with Silas, having been flogged and beaten and thrown in a cell with their feet in stocks. They are singing. Imagine for a moment, that with the rats scurrying by, they are singing the yellow submarine and, in breathy, gravelly voices (the technique in modern singing styles), they are singing a psalm of praise to God, while pounding an excited beat on the floor. Doesn’t fit? Would you sing that way when you meet God face to face and behold the glory of the Lamb in His resurrected power?

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It’s interesting how we can get so caught up in our momentary lives and not consider the way we do our various activities. Singing is a wonderful gift, but used in the wrong way it can become a problem.

The breathy technique of singing I referred to is a sensual style that is meant to arouse sexual passions in the hearer. You will notice it in popular love songs, and many other types of music. Unfortunately, many types of ungodly techniques have seeped into our churches and musical worship. I have concerns about the way Christians tend to adapt and take on worldly practices without even consulting the Bible to see whether it is right or wrong to do so.

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God’s Word tells us to abstain from any form of evil (1Thessalonians 5:22), to flee sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18), and to make no provision for the flesh to fulfill its lusts (Romans 13:14, Galatians 5:16). Yet I have heard people singing like this while claiming to be worshiping God in church services or in praise songs on a CD.

Lest you think that none of this really matters in our daily lives, let me remind you that we live a lifestyle of worship, not just a few hours on Sunday during church services. Our lives should emit an odor of the incense of worship. As Christians, we have the Holy Spirit indwelling us, so He hears every song we listen to and sing.  This is not a passive relationship; it is active. He is grieved by our sins, prays for us when we don’t have words, and rejoices over our victories. Should we not educate ourselves in His Word so that we can understand how to please Him?

Come back for part 5 tomorrow!

Music Twisting Part 3

Here is part three!

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In my family situation, I have been exposed to mostly hymns, choruses, along with some incidental exposure to songs played at grocery and retail stores. I hadn’t really listened to classical music as much because of a family member disliking it, and we didn’t listen to country, rock, jazz, or blues for reasons I didn’t know. Dad and Mom just didn’t like them, so my only exposure to them was incidental, such as movies, and in public places. When I was required to listen to selected pieces of music, I discovered that I enjoy many of the baroque, classical, and romantic pieces by such composers as Vivaldi, Haydn, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky.

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Some of you will realize through your previous knowledge the differences in both the style and personalities of this group of composers. Antonio Vivaldi was a gentle and kind priest, with easily changing emotions and deep feelings. Meanwhile, Joseph Haydn was a cheerful, content man with no joy in his marriage, but a good humor and productive life anyway. According to The Gift of Music, Haydn’s best works were written after he met the young Wolfgang Mozart, who was an absolute genius. Mozart was not a pious man, even while he acknowledged his Creator. He and his wife were always poor due to unwise choices.

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The last on my list is the one I must explain. Tchaikovsky was a brilliant composer of deeply emotional music. But although he read his Bible from 8:00 to 9:00 every morning, he had a constant struggle with his homosexual temptations. He was tormented by what he himself viewed as sinful attractions, and had many physical ailments and deep depression. His consolation was his work, which took up much of his time. He was very active, and desired to do much. His humility kept him from arrogance and from realizing his talent.

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I find this man fascinating because of his sorrow over sin. He most likely never acknowledged Jesus as Lord and Savior, but tried his best to appease his made up god with good works. It’s a sad fate, but one that many choose.

I questioned for awhile if I should listen to the music of unbelievers, but came to the conclusion that God has given many men and women talents, regardless of their relationship—or lack thereof—with Him. We can therefore listen to the wholesome music of sinners if we have a clear conscience concerning them. However, we must be careful not to listen to unwholesome music, whether it is written by a sinner or a saint.  I personally stay away from the music of Wagner and some of Beethoven, because of Wagner’s dark heart, and Beethoven’s nature worship and erroneous spiritual beliefs. His emotional music requires wisdom, as the authors of The Gift of Music say in their chapter on him, “… never listen indifferently and without discernment. Enjoy and appreciate what is good, but keep in mind that it is with composers as with all of us: what we believe affects our total life.” (Smith and Stuart, p.67)

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This brings me to a theological point I want to remind you of. At the time of the Fall, when Adam sinned, we became what theologians call “Totally Depraved”. This does not mean that mankind is as evil as it can get, but that every area—our total self—is marred by the fall. Our minds, our thoughts, our bodies, our talents … all are twisted from the fall. While many people are “good” people (on the outside they are moral and do good things), they still have sin in every area, and when a person is spiritually dead and has not been regenerated through Christ’s saving work on the cross, they don’t have discernment from God to be able to glorify Him rightly in their work.

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Thus, when we consider the works of great composers, we must always remember that they -and we– are not capable of perfectly glorifying God in their work. Even in the area of music, the devil has his hand in it, and we must be discerning. Of course, our source of help, as always, is the Word of God in the Bible. He gives us many instructions for every area of our lives, including the area of music.

Thanks for reading! The fourth part is coming tomorrow.

Music Twisting Part 2

For my high school graduation term paper, I wrote on the topic of music. I am pleased to share it with you here in the following days. Here is part two!

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I am often amazed at how apathetic Americans, and indeed all people, are in so many areas. We just don’t seem to think about what we really believe and how our choices are made. I used to never give a thought to many of the books I read and how they were affecting my mind in good and bad ways, or how certain songs caused various feelings inside me. But now that I have begun this lifelong journey, I want to ask others to join me. Perhaps you will not agree with me on the choices I make regarding music. Quite honestly, that’s really just fine with me! My goal is not to persuade you to take what I say and only choose songs that I will agree with. Not at all! My hope is that you will begin to think –  really and truly think – about the why and how of your choices; not only in music, but in books, movies, friends, and any other area. To begin a life of choices and decisions that are filtered through what God says in His Word is one of the greatest things I could hope to inspire in you. And really, that is the work of the Holy Spirit in His children, and something we should pray for.

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I do not by any means profess to be an expert on all the ins and outs of music, its techniques, and where it came from. I have not listened to all the different genres out there, and I have no music going in the background as I write this. I love music, and often sing and play instruments at church and at home. But I am not the kind of person who listens to it every minute of the day. I have friends who would love to do nothing but listen to music. I guess I don’t understand that. I think music is a wonderful thing, a way to praise God and enjoy life and family and friends in a whole new level. But I am the kind of person who would rather be playing a song rather than hearing a song. I enjoy doing things that have some sort of benefit. As the saying goes, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”

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Most of all, I want to honor the Lord in the way that I play music, in the music itself, and in the choices of music that I listen to. That is why I have read numerous books, studied passages in the Bible, and sought God’s wisdom and heart in this area. I decided to write this paper for myself, initially, so I could think through my writing and put in a concise place all that is in my mind and heart. It was an extra bonus when it turned into my term paper for high school.

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In my studies, I have learned that music is not neutral. While individual notes are neutral, combined notes can be either beautiful, haunting, or upbeat. Just a letter is neutral, but the letters can all be used to either say something kind, hateful, or sinful. You could use the letter “a” in different ways to communicate completely different ideas, like “I hate you”, or “I love you. Will you marry me?”

In just that way, we can use the notes that make up music to either make cheerful and uplifting songs, or dark, melancholy, and even evil songs.

That’s all for now, folks. Come back for the next part tomorrow.

Mexico

March 18, 2016

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Mountain in Mexico

I apologize for the confusion this post may have caused those of you who signed up for my email. I accidentally published it before it was ready, so I “un-published” it and got it ready again. So here it is – again!

In my Bible Study Fellowship this week, the opening hymn was Praise to the Lord the Almighty. As I sang it, I realized that it outlined my trip to Mexico perfectly and in almost exact chronological order so that I could use it in sharing my testimony of what the Lord has done in my life recently.

(For those of you who don’t know, I recently went on a mission trip to Mexico for ten days.)

“Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation!”
When we arrived at the leader’s house on Friday morning, it was suggested that the group from my church (we joined others from different churches and groups) pray before starting. We primarily praised God for us all being able to go, how we were able to come despite adverse circumstances, and for all He would do in and through us.
Our leader has always put an emphasis on the Lord being the Almighty Creator, and he was planning on teaching a VBS (vacation Bible school) all about the Creator in Mexico.

“…O my soul praise Him, for He is thy health and salvation!”
We all began the bus trip with prayer for our travels – prayers for safety and for health as we traveled for thirty hours to a foreign country. We had many thoughts about our health, and the salvation of souls in Mexico and beyond.

“All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near; join me in glad adoration.”
On Sunday morning we made sure to wake up in time to go to a Mexican church service at 10:30 A.M. We ‘drew near to God’s temple’ in Juarez, Mexico, and were hosted by gracious Christians who chose songs that were familiar to us Americanos, so that we could join them in glad adoration of our God and Creator. We joined with our brothers and sisters in the most meaningful, life-changing praise of God I have ever experienced before in my life! It was amazing and wonderful.

“Praise to the Lord, who o’er all things so wondrously reigning bears thee on eagle’s wings, e’er in His keeping maintaining.”
As we, the very different-from-the-Mexicans, Americans walked through the city market in the afternoon, we were approached by two ladies from the newspaper who asked to take a picture of some of us for the morning news. Later we found out that this made our visit slightly less low-profile than usual. We walked through a rather dangerous street and were shown a poster/display for a young girl who was kidnapped from her Christian family. Our guide told us that five girls are kidnapped each week in Mexico.

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Please remember to pray for girls like Esmeralda

God protected us all that day and through the whole week as we served Him. He maintained us and bore us up on eagle’s wings.

“God’s care enfolds all whose true good He upholds. Hast thou not known His sustaining?”
I experienced this in a very personal way on Sunday night just after I went to bed. I laid down in the top bunk, and immediately, with no warning, I felt like I was going to be sick. I quietly rushed to the bathroom, where I stopped, no longer sick, but now overcome by a wave of emotion. I couldn’t stop crying and thinking of my family, and stayed in there for about ten minutes, crying out to God for comfort. And He did! He gave me the strength, calm and distractions to not be lonely all the rest of the week.

“Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy work and defend thee;”
The Lord surely prospered our work! We got many things done even on just the first day. He protected us from all the hidden dangers – car accidents, unfriendly people, major illness, etc.

“Surely His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee.”
He also gave us mercy in that no one got any kind of injury beyond a few slivers, or two, cuts, or a big bruise (on yours truly :)). His goodness overwhelms me.

“Ponder anew what the Almighty can do, who with His love doth befriend thee.”
One of the girls wore a shirt that said “God’s Work, Our Hands.” So true. God worked through the wonderful Christians in Mexico to show me personally His love. They were so friendly and accepting, and my new American friends were so concerned for my (and other’s) health/dietary needs, that I felt God’s love enfold me like a hug, sometimes literally through the people around me. He crossed over language barriers and knit our spirits together with the love of Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord.

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“Praise to the Lord, who doth nourish thy life and restore thee, fitting thee well for the tasks that are ever before thee.”
Again, so many times He works through our hands. The kitchen crew nourished us with food for each breakfast and lunch and then the Mexican ladies took over to prepare us spectacular meals each night. The English speaking people provided us with sweet fellowship and conversation, especially the Mexican Pastor and the hard working grounds keeper. God gave us restoration through sleep each night, fitting us for the next day of hard work.

“Then to thy need, God as a mother doth speed, spreading the wings of grace o’er thee.”
This happened with a few of the others on the trip. A young man became ill for a night and morning and God through His grace revealed pride in his heart. A young woman got a few headaches and was given grace to rest, and received many kind words from those who took her place.
He does comfort thee in thy need!

“Praise to the Lord! O, let all that is in me adore Him! All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before Him!”
My heart is overflowing with praise for my Lord and Creator! Won’t you join me in praising Him?

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“Let the amen sound from His people again; gladly forever adore Him.”
We closed our bus trip on the way home in prayer and praise for a safe, wondrous journey. It was life-changing for many, if not all. May we all, forever, adore Him!

Note: Thank you to all who supported me financially and with prayers. I truly appreciate your part in this trip, and I couldn’t have done it without you. I thank God for you. You had a part in this, and I do not take it for granted. God bless you.

*I didn’t share any names or locations to protect the privacy of any who may desire it.

Are You Praying?

“God will bless Elijah and send rain on Israel, but he  must pray for it. If the chosen nation is to prosper, Samuel must plead for it. If the Jews are to be delivered, Daniel must intercede. God will bless Paul, and the nations shall be converted, but Paul must pray … Let me have your prayers, and I can do anything! Let me be without my people’s prayers, and I can do nothing.” -Charles Spurgeon

Who are you called to pray for? Are you praying faithfully? What man or woman of God is struggling for lack of your intercession for them before God? Certainly God will act without you, but He desires your faith to be lifted through your prayers and the answers to them. What blessings are you missing out on?

“The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” James 5:16