Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Law and Sin (applied to Music)

The Toothpick (freshman English major at Messiah College in Grantham, PA) just finished a class called From Script to Screen, which (as I understand it) examined how screenwriters adapt stage plays for film. Now he says it’s hard to watch a movie without focusing on critical details. Every college music major experiences something similar in regard to listening to musical performances and recordings, but I’m happy to say that enjoyment returns. Harold Best likens it to what Paul wrote in Romans 7 concerning the law and sin.
Everybody loves music in one way or another. Everybody has a sense of quality, even though it may not always be that finely tuned. And music is everywhere. In some way, everybody makes and receives music. The few who do not are to be pitied.

So here are all these music makers, enjoying what they like and liking what they enjoy. …

Suddenly all of this is interrupted with the law, the aesthetic law, the laws of those with refined taste and musical etiquette, the laws of the specialist, the connoisseur, the intellectual informer. And the people who have been alive all along, making music without knowing these laws, are confronted with the lawgivers who point up their ineptitude, their omissions and commissions, and the life goes out of the riot and celebration. To paraphrase [Ro. 7:10-13] these aesthetic laws, which were designed to result in aesthetic life, turn around and take life away.

And yet these aesthetic laws are good. The aesthetic standards themselves do not lead to our aesthetic downfall. Instead, our aesthetic weaknesses have to be revealed in order that they can be seen for what they are. But the aesthetic laws cannot be applied from the outside. Well-meaning but legalistic aesthetes cannot try to raise musical standards by applying aesthetic canons [rules] or assuming that people “ought to have enough common sense” to change once they hear the aesthetic canons [rules]. The result of this is that people may stay defeated, even though they keep trying to work things out; or they may assume that the whole exercise is silly, turn their backs on it, and go their way.

In our spiritual lives we do not immediately attain maturity. We stumble, we fall, and we confess. We get up and continue to press on. So with music and art; there is no immediate leap into aesthetic finesse. We make music only to discover that it is not as well done as it could be; we choose a composition only to discover that there is a much better one. There is no aesthetic lapse that is too low or too grievous. Only those who do not want to change will not change. [emphasis mine] It is that simple. Great music is for everybody, not just the elitists, just as the gospel is for everybody, not just the righteous. The discernment of it comes gradually. It is learned, and everybody can learn if they want to.
(~ Music through the Eyes of Faith, pp. 87ff)

That’s enough to think about for now. The peace of Christ to you.


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