Music: a missing link

‘When the Music fades’ is a song the expresses a clear and simple truth. Worship is all about Jesus. Many musicians have taken this on board in order to ‘restrain’ or balance their musical indulgences in order to ensure that what music happens is actually worship.

I’ve heard many musicians pray that they wouldn’t get ‘carried away’ in the music and interestingly enough that the words would get precedence. I would agree with the first part. Of course the focus is on God. That’s what worship is all about.

And music? What’s that all about? In practice it seems that music is a vehicle for words. It creates moods. It gets people doing something together. But is that it? Is music finally like a spiritual car of some sorts? Taking people together in air conditioned comfort from one spot to another?

I think music is much more. Music does carry meaning. Unfortunately in media saturated societies the meaning is often caricatured and laughed at. Slightly disonant chords immediately signify horror movies and key changes can be considered too dramatic. But I believe that music does carry meaning and I wonder if church musicians are completely losing out on this aspect of music.

In the bible music has a hugely prophetic function which has not been dwelt on at length at least within my moderately narrow reading list. From the song of Moses where Miriam prophetically leads the dance, right to the New Testament where we’re supposed to minister to each other with songs there is a strong element of the prophetic in music.

Asaph, Jeduthun and Heman the big 3 musos of the 1st temple worship scene were all officially the king’s SEERS. (2 chronicles 29:30, 35:15, 1 Chronicles 25:5) No they weren’t worship leaders. And they were called to prophesy with instruments and so were there sons. (Prophesying with instruments also happens in the odd story of Saul where he meets a band and goes into a frenzy.)

The well known passage in Amos where God says ‘Away with the noise of your songs’ has often been used as a message against wrong type of worship. There definitely is a strong element of injustice there but the quest for justice itself is a prophetic role. And within the book of Amos in 2:12 and 7:13 the human powers that be insist that prophets don’t prophesy anymore. I wonder whether the ‘noise’ of the songs have to do particularly with prophesy that’s been told to shut up.

If music does have this prophetic role then it will be good to think about what it means for the doing of music in church.

Maybe it would mean taking music a bit more seriously. It carries its own meanings and emotions. And a musician’s excellence therefore is not merely to play in a way that won’t be distracting. (This leads often to the middle of the road pastiche of sound). Her excellence will also be required in order to play what God is saying. There might be some things that God speaks through the music that he won’t do through words. This is why a church musician should continually keep adding vocabulary to her instrument.

And I think this same prophetic function goes for all art forms. Visual artists through painting and digital forms could give prophesies to the gathering. Think of the great craftsman artist Bezalel who incidentally is the first person that God says his Spirit is upon.

This can mean all kinds of exciting and for me scary things. Doing our art and our music in worship needn’t feel like singing to the air. The air might actually speak to us.

6 thoughts on “Music: a missing link”

  1. An interesting post. It's sounds like you're advocating a move away from many of the current, MOR songs we sing in order to be a little more adventurous. Is that so?

    Also, how far is the message tied to the music? Would When the Music Fades convey the same message if it is a 240bpm techno anthem? If not, why not?

  2. I'm not advocating a move away from these songs. I'm advocating an additional important approach to how a musician should approach music itself.

    and the meaning of when the music fades would definitely change at 240bpm. so much so that the meaning of the music would clash with words so much that the entire package would be rendered directionless and meaningless

  3. Just like any other media, a social group will have particular responses to particular types of music. There are some intrinsic properties which I think Jeremy Begbie explores but there are a lot of social conventions as well.

    It's the same with words.

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