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!

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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.

The Glorified Christ

 “Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lamp stands,  and in the midst of the seven lamp stands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire;  His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters;  He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.  And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.” – Revelation 1:12-18

Isn’t Jesus beautiful in His power and majesty? He is awesome! And He is worthy of all praise, all honor, and all worship. Won’t you spend time with Him today?

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”  -Revelation 1:8

“To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood,  and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” – Revelation 1:5