Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Spiritual Significance of Music

Read 4/14/10
2 Stars - Recommended Lightly
Pgs: 163

Justin St. Vincent asked 1,000 people from different religious backgrounds, from musicians to psychotherapists to writers to keynote speaker, what they felt the spiritual significance of music is. He then took a mix of 100 of those interviews and created "The Spiritual Significance of Music".

I was hesitant to accept Justin's offer to review this collection of interviews at first. Religion tends to be a sensitive subject, and something that can be difficult to remain objective about. It's a topic that usually ignites strong feelings, has been the cause of many fallings out between friends and families, and of course, has been the reason behind some of the most gruesome historical wars.

However, when it comes to reading, I like to think that I am open to just about anything. And I knew this book would test my ability to critique the subject matter while keeping my personal opinions out of it.


I have to commend Justin for his ability to remain open to the many diverse perspectives he received in answer to his question, printing a Christian believers response beside a Black Metal Satantic musicians reply.

Music is an ever present part of everyone's life. From gospel to R&B to country to death metal, each one of us has been touched at one time or another by a songs lyric, or drumbeat, or guitar riff. What Justin attemps to do is show the world just what music means to us and how music affect us, differently, spiritually.

I suppose you would have to begin by defining what "Spiritual" is. For some, it is a direct connection with their Creator, a feeling of being connected to God through worship or praise. For others, it is a feeling of bliss, of inner peace, of balance. Euphoria.

Now to link that definition to music itself - How does the music we listen to, the many different forms of music, affect us spiritually?

Here are some of the responses:
David Amram claims that "music is the language of the soul...A way of recording history that all people can understand". For me, this makes sense. How many artists out there write songs that chronicle historical events, current events, political views? It's a tool we often use to lay down the feelings and emotions of the times.

Kevin Asbjornson states that "music provokes our thoughts and evokes our emotions." This is a given. You would be hard pressed to find someone who wasn't emotionally touched by a song, or a particular lyric. Someone who has never felt that rush of nostalgia, or reminisced about where they were or who they were with when a certain song was released.

Seth Hecox talks about the way "artists create a doorway with thier music that bridges our mundane physical existence with our mysterious spiritual life". No one knows what the next life holds for us. Or if there really truly is a next life.... Music is often used as a tool to express a persons fear, or reinforce their belief. It's a way to connect with others who feel the same way or are concerned about the same things.

Iasos says "music is a conductor of emotions... of states of consciousness... and of intent" that is transferred from the music-creator to the listener. Again, a theme of connectivity, of sameness, of letting people know that they are not alone, to share what you are feeling and help others feel the same thing.

Lenny Ibizarre believes "it's a spiritual vehicle that allows us to let go of thoughts and worry and". How many people out there throw on a CD when they are stressed out, an album that they can just lay back and relax to? How many people read to peaceful instrumental music? How about just playing your favorite party tune when running around preparing for a night out on the town?

These are all views I can get behind. These are the ways in which music has affected and impacted me, my life. These definitions of how music impacts spirituality make sense to me.

There were others that I struggled to finish reading because I disagreed so strongly with them.

Trey Pearson of Everyday Sunday, a christian rock band, feels "it is important to be careful what we entertain ourselves with." He goes on to discuss how he believes that music was created to worship and glorify God and leaves you with the feeling that is wrong to sing about anything other than worshiping Him.

This touches a bit of a sore spot with me. As a high school teenager, I was friends with some kids who were practicing Christians, and they had talked me into accompanying them to their weekly bible study group. It was in this bible study group one night that I was looked down upon for the music I chose to listen to. The youth group leader, and suddenly my so-called friends as well, began to pray for me because I listened to R.E.M. and The Cure... bands that sung about physical love, rather than spiritual love. Are you then also telling me that Bette Midler and Journey are off limits too?

Florence Larue is a firm believer in God and wanted to sing his praises professionally. Though she claims that when she considered entering the Gospel Music field, "God spoke to my spirit and very clearly told me to stay in the secular arena and minister in song to those who did not know Him and wouldn't attend a Gospel concert". Here is where it gets difficult for me to stay objective. Am I to believe that God interferes with people in such a way as to the point of directing them on what to sing? On how to influence the masses through straight up rock and roll? Is this the same God that Trey believes doesn't enjoy secular music because it isn't directly praising His glory?

XDeathstarX agrees with Trey in that music was "created for one purpose and one purpose only: to worship and bring glory to God". I believe music was created for myriad reasons. One of which would be to revel in the glory of the Lord, should you so chose to. However, it was also created as a way to connect with other humans, to share feelings, and to express things that cannot be spoken.

Whatever your feelings on religion, whatever music you chose to listen to, you listen to what you listen to because it makes you feel - something! Happy, sad, free, relaxed, energetic, connected, not so alone.... any number of different emotions or all emotions at once.

Music is a part of us. As is our spirituality - no matter what your belief system. It is what makes us who we are. And in some cases, it is the reason we exist.

Justin asked 1,000 people a question. He got 1,000 different responses. So let me ask you, TNBBC followers - what is the spiritual relevance of music to YOU? Do you agree with the few points of view I have pulled from the book, or do you have one of your own you would like to share?

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