Volume 11, Issue 5: Verbatim
Quotations on Music
Various Saints and Clever Pagans
Music is surely among the most baffling of the arts in its power to move people profoundly whether or not they have any technical expertise or intellectual understanding of it. If a few combinations of pitches, durations, timbres, and dynamic values can unlock the most hidden contents of a manís spiritual and emotional being, then the study of music should be the key to an understanding of manís nature. Music is a code in which the deepest secrets of humanity are written: this heady thought assured musical studies their central place in ancient, medieval, and renaissance thought.
Let us not deny ourselves the enrichment of much of the greatest music merely on the basis of its seeming obscurity. In general, the music of immediate appeal is somewhat like a handkerchief box: all the beauty is on the surface, and there is no depth. Very often music that on first hearing seemed strange and uninteresting will become more and more beautiful with each hearing as you further penetrate its beauty.
Wild beasts and birds are said to be delighted by certain modes more than by others. But how or in what manner these things or others may be so, is not easily discovered. Therefore, the things we may know in this God-given art we use only in praise of God, and these things which were revealed to us by means of the untiring investigation of antiquity, we adopt with joy, with celebration, with singing, which things in earlier generations were not understood by the sons of men but are now revealed to them in holiness.
By the power of the Holy Spirit He arranged in harmonious order this great world, yes, and the little world of man too, body and soul together; and on this many-voiced instrument of the universe He makes music to God, and sings to the human instrument. ďFor thou art my harp and my pipe and my templeĒómy harp by reason of the music, my pipe by reason of the breath of the Spirit, my temple by reason of the WordóGodís purpose being that the music should resound, the Spirit inspire, and the temple receive its Lord.
Clement of Alexandria
Nobody who understands the experiences of melody, harmony, and rhythm will doubt their value. Not only are they the distillation of centuries of social life: they are also forms of knowledge, providing the competence to reach out of ourselves through music. Through melody, harmony, and rhythm, we enter a world where others exist besides the self, a world that is full of feeling but also ordered, disciplined but free. That is why music is a character-forming force, and the decline of musical taste a decline in morals. The anomie of Nirvana and REM is the anomie of its listeners.
We have to remind ourselves that the popular use of pictures need not be base or degraded in itself. We hardly need a similar reminder about the popular use of music. A wholesale condemnation is out of the question. It could be made only in defiance of the whole human race. To sing and dance around a fiddler at a fair is obviously a right-minded thing to do.
The key to better things in Christian music is the habitual hearing of greatness in music not only in school, not only in college and Bible Institute, but in Sunday school also. For the music that younger children hear exercises a formative influence on their taste. Not even the smallest child may safely be fed a diet of musical trash.
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night
And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.
Extraordinary how potent cheap music is.
And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps. They sang as it were a new song before the throne
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