Music

From the Dean

A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Originally Published:
9th June 2006

Tagged: emotions music singing

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“Organised noise” is one of the ways to understand music. In an attempt to define music it reduces it to the lowest common denominator. Everything that can claim to be music involves noise. The difference between noise and music is organization.

Yet in the organization of noise, music has powerful and strange effects upon humans. It moves us emotionally and even physically. Sometimes it arouses deeply negative and unpleasant emotions (most parents complain about their teenage children’s choice of music in the car!) Often it arouses in us a variety of pleasant sensations and diverse emotions. These can be illuminating both about the subject of the music and about our own selves.

Over 3000 years ago we read of King Saul using music to help him with spiritual torment. He had a young man named David, later to be his successor as king, to play the lyre for him. He was refreshed in his trouble by this young man’s music. Though he was not cured of the spiritual torment - even on one occasion throwing a spear to kill the young musician while he was playing.

Music can lift our spirits and bring us joy and it can deepen our sorrows and bring us to tears. It can express the moods that we are in, and it can develop moods in us that change our day.

In the Bible we read, “Is anybody cheerful? Let him sing praise.” For music gives voice to our good cheer and happiness. And if we are in good spirits it is God who has blessed us, for all good and perfect gifts come from him. So we are to sing praise in thanksgiving and joy for the blessings of our life.

Music then provides us with more than the experience of our emotions. With the aid of words it gives us a vehicle to express our ideas. It can be used to teach each other and to praise God, as well as to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. It powerfully connects ideas with the emotions to move the whole person.

Thus music can be used both for good and for ill. It was used to promote Fascism and to undermine Communism. It is used to promote consumer goods we do not need and to arouse national sentiment to chauvinistic fervour. It is used to celebrate the joy of life on one hand, and degenerate lifestyles on the other.

Because of music’s powerful effect on self-awareness it can easily confuse a person into thinking that it is more than “organised noise”. Some confuse the emotional with the spiritual and music with truth. It is a truth that God has created us with the ability to make and enjoy the effect of music. But the truth of the music is not found in the effects it creates in us but in the words that it expresses.

So Christians enjoy their music. We use music extensively to express and teach our spiritual experience. But our experience of God is not in music but in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. That experience is expressed in the words of the Gospel. Words that can and are often set to music. Words about which, music has often been written. But it is God’s word, which introduce us to God through his Son the Lord Jesus Christ.