If Music Is NeutralBy David Cloud
The foundational philosophy that under girds both Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) and Contemporary Christian Worship (CCW) is the idea that music is neutral or amoral and that any style of music can be used in the service of a holy God. Consider the following examples:
A representative of Contemporary Christian Praise music: "...we need to stop advocating one music style over against another. Our tradition, our style, our renderings have to do with ourselves, not with God." --Anthony Gentes, The Worship Thought, July 2003.
A representative of Contemporary Christian Music: "There is no such thing as 'gospel music.' Every style and form of music can become gospel, whether it's jazz, pop, rock 'n' roll, or rap." --Don Butler, Gospel Music Association
A representative of contemporary Southern Gospel: "God speaks through all different kinds of musical styles" --Bill Gaither
I have some questions to ask about this philosophy:
If all musical styles are neutral, WHY IS IT THAT THE MOVIE "TEXT PAINTER" CAN USE DIFFERENT STYLES OF MUSIC TO CREATE DIFFERENT EMOTIONS? This can be illustrated by the old silent movies. There were no words to the movies except those on the screen, but the musicians (sometimes a lone pianist and sometimes an orchestra) could create feelings of fear, haste, happiness, sorrow, romance, anger, indignation, tension, uncertainty, merely by changing his style of music.
If all musical styles are neutral, WHY CAN AN ORCHESTRA CREATE DIFFERENT FEELINGS BY CHANGING THE STYLE OF THE MUSIC? Orchestra music ordinarily doesn't have words; it is strictly music; but anyone who knows the power of music can testify that each style of music played by the orchestra creates different feelings and thoughts in the listeners.
Put a different way, if all musical styles are neutral, WHY DOES A MILITARY MARCH NEVER SOUND LIKE A ROMANCE BALLAD OR A BABY LULLABY SOUND LIKE A PUNK ROCK CONCERT?
If all musical styles are neutral, WHY DO TAVERNS AND NIGHT CLUBS NOT PLAY TRADITIONAL SACRED MUSIC MELODIES? Why do they always play a certain kind of music?
If all musical styles are neutral, WHY DID THE OLD BLUESMEN BELIEVE THAT CERTAIN KINDS OF RHYTHMS CAUSED WOMEN TO BE MORALLY LOOSE? For example, Professor Longhair's boogie-woogie piano music is said to have caused women to "jump and wriggle" in a lascivious manner. Robert Johnson, one of the pioneering bluesmen who died young because of his womanizing, said of his blues rhythms: "This sound affected most women in a way that I could never understand." B.B. King, one of the biggest living names in the blues, said in his autobiography, "The women reacted with their bodies flowing to a rhythm coming out of my guitar…" Those are powerful statements about the effect of a specific kind of music and rhythm. Were the bluesmen confused about their music?
If all musical styles are neutral, WHY DO ROCK MUSICIANS NEVER USE ANY OTHER KIND OF MUSIC?
If all musical styles are neutral, WHY DO ROCK MUSICIANS CLAIM THAT THEIR HEAVILY SYNCOPATED RHYTHM IS SEXY? Following are just a few of the many quotes we could give along these lines.
"Rock music is sex. The big beat matches the body's rhythms" (Frank Zappa of the Mothers of Invention, Life, June 28, 1968).
"That's what rock is all about--sex with a 100 megaton bomb, the beat!" (Gene Simmons of the rock group Kiss, interview, Entertainment Tonight, ABC, Dec. 10, 1987).
"Rock 'n' roll is 99% sex" (John Oates of the rock duo Hall & Oates, Circus, Jan. 31, 1976).
"Rock 'n' roll is pagan and primitive, and very jungle, and that's how it should be!" (Malcolm McLaren, punk rock manager, Rock, August 1983).
"The great strength of rock 'n' roll lies in its beat ... it is a music which is basically sexual, un-Puritan ... and a threat to established patterns and values" (Irwin Silber, Marxist, Sing Out, May 1965).
"Rock and roll aims for liberation and transcendence, EROTICIZING THE SPIRITUAL AND SPIRITUALIZING THE EROTIC, because that is its ecumenical birthright" (Robert Palmer, Rock & Roll an Unruly History).
"Rock and roll is fun, it's full of energy ... It's naughty" (Tina Turner, cited in Rock Facts, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum).
"Rock and roll was something that's hardcore, rough and wild and sweaty and wet and just loose" (Patti Labelle, cited in Rock Facts, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum).
"Rock music has one appeal only, a barbaric appeal to sexual desire" (Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, professor of social thought at the University of Chicago).
Rapper Missy Elliot's 3rd album, "Miss E ... So Addictive," is described as "a seductive cocktail of quirky rhythms and hypnotic beats."
The blues music (predecessor to rock and roll) that was played in Gayoso brothels in Memphis, Tennessee, in the early part of the 20th century is described as "sexually syncopated sounds" (Larry Nager, Memphis Beat: The lives and Times of America's Musical Crossroads).
Why do these secular rock lovers describe the heavily syncopated rock rhythms as sexy, primitive, seductive, and hypnotic? What do they know, or what are they admitting, that the Contemporary Christian Music crowd denies?
If all musical styles are neutral, WHY DOES ONE OF THE FOREMOST EXPERTS IN DRUMMING CLAIM THAT CERTAIN RHYTHMS CAN ALTER THE STATE OF ONE'S CONSCIOUSNESS? Mickey Hart, drummer for the Grateful Dead, has traveled the world researching the power of drums. In his book Drumming at the Edge of Magic he observes: "Everywhere you look on the planet people are USING DRUMS TO ALTER CONSCIOUSNESS. … I've discovered, along with many others, the extraordinary power of music, particularly percussion, to influence the human mind and body. . . . There have been many times when I've felt as if the drum has carried me to an open door into another world."
If all musical styles are neutral, WHY WOULD A VOODOO PRIESTESS SAY THAT HER GODS RESPOND TO CERTAIN RHYTHMS? Consider this quote carefully: "The rhythm is more important than the meaning of the words. Our gods respond to rhythm above all else" (a Macumba priestess in Brazil, quoted in African Rhythm & Sensibility).
If all musical styles are neutral, WHY DID THE 1960S LSD-NEW AGE GURU TIMOTHY LEARY SAY, "DON'T LISTEN TO THE WORDS, IT'S THE MUSIC THAT HAS ITS OWN MESSAGE" (Leary, Politics of Ecstasy). What did he mean by that?
If all musical styles are neutral, WHY DID JIMI HENDRIX, ONE OF THE FOREMOST EXPERTS IN ROCK RHYTHM, CLAIM THAT CERTAIN MUSIC CREATES A CERTAIN ATMOSPHERE? "Atmospheres are going to come through music, because the music is a spiritual thing of its own" (Jimi Hendrix, rock star, Life, Oct. 3, 1969).
If all musical styles are neutral, WHY DID ROCK AND ROLL HISTORIAN ROBERT PALMER SAY THAT THE (IM)MORAL INFLUENCE OF ROCK AND ROLL INHERES IN THE RHYTHM? "I believe in the transformative power of rock and roll … this transformative power inheres not so much in the words of songs or the stances of the stars, but in the music itself--in the SOUND, and above all, in the BEAT" (Robert Palmer, Rock & Roll an Unruly History).
If all musical styles are neutral, WHY DID THE HOWARD HANSON, WHO DIRECTED THE PRESTIGIOUS EASTMAN SCHOOL OF MUSIC FOR ALMOST 50 YEARS, SAY: "MUSIC CAN BE PHILOSOPHICAL OR ORGIASTIC. IT HAS POWERS FOR EVIL AS WELL AS FOR GOOD"? (cited from Frank Garlock's The Language of Music; Dr. Garlock is a graduate of Eastman and sat under Hanson).
If all musical styles are neutral, WHY DID THE WORLD FAMOUS CONDUCTOR LEONARD BERSTEIN SAY: "MUSIC DOESN'T HAVE TO PASS THROUGH THE CENSOR OF THE BRAIN BEFORE IT CAN REACH THE HEART. An F sharp doesn't have to be considered in the mind; it is a direct hit, and therefore all the more powerful"?
If all musical styles are neutral, WHY DOES THE BIBLE SPECIFY THAT BELIEVERS SHOULD SING A CERTAIN KIND OF MUSIC? "Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:19). The word "spiritual" means set apart for God, different from the things of the world. A tavern or nightclub owner would never play psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs over the music system, even if the words were not included. It would create the wrong atmosphere. Why, then, should believers use the same music that tavern owners use to entertain and lull or stir the drinking crowd to their lascivious pleasures?
If all musical styles are neutral, THAT MEANS THAT THE DEVIL HASN'T CORRUPTED MUSIC. Such an idea is nonsensical. The devil hates God and has attempted to corrupt everything that God has created. Music is one of the most powerful influences in society. To think that the Devil has not corrupted music to his own wicked purposes and for the enticement of fallen man is contrary to everything the Bible teaches us.
If all musical styles are neutral, WHY DID JOSHUA DISCERN THAT THE MUSIC COMING UP FROM THE CAMP OF ISRAEL WAS "A NOISE OF WAR"? (Exodus 32:17). If music is neutral, how could he make any judgment at all about what he was hearing?
If all musical styles are neutral (one of my readers submitted), "WHY DID MY CHILDREN BEHAVE PROPERLY DURING THE TRADITIONAL MORNING SERVICE, BUT JUMP AROUND LIKE THEY HAD ANTS IN THEIR PANTS FOR 45 MINUTES DURING THE LOUD ROCKISH NIGHT SERVICE AT A CHURCH WE WERE VISITING?"
Finally, if all music styles are neutral, WHY NOT USE TRADITIONAL SACRED MUSIC SO YOU DON'T OFFEND THE MANY SAINTS OF GOD WHO HAVE DEEP CONVICTIONS AGAINST ROCK AND WHO ARE CONVINCED THAT THIS IS INDEED A MORAL ISSUE?
A QUESTION ANSWERED
Question: You mean that a B flat note has a moral quality, Brother Cloud?
Answer: No, a B flat note is nothing in itself, and a B flat note is not music. But when that B flat is put together with other notes and components of music and is made into a musical piece, that musical piece becomes a language (music is rightly called the "language of the heart") and has a moral quality. It is like the alphabet. The letter "D" has no moral quality in itself, but when it is placed with other letters to make words and sentences and paragraphs, that piece of writing assumes a moral quality. The letter "D" can become either "divine" or "devilish." It is the same with art. Lines and circles in themselves have no moral quality, but when they are placed together into a piece of art, it ceases to be neutral and becomes a language that spells out a certain message in this world and having a certain influence upon men.
I close with the testimony of a man who left the contemporary music scene after having led contemporary worship teams in two churches:
"I am now convinced that God will not accept our worship when it is offered with music styles that are also used by pagans for their immoral practices. If I am wrong, why was he so harsh in judging Israel when they sacrificed to him using the pagan high places and rituals? He is a jealous God. If you grasp this principle alone, it will change for ever the way you lead a worship service. … The true heart of worship is the heart that bows before God and submits to his Word, no more and no less" (Dan Lucarini, Confessions of a Former Worship Leader, p. 57)
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