Music’s Pervasive Tendrils! (series: Music in the Bible, part 1)

Music, music, everywhere.

by Dave Skipper

Music!

Music! It sets the pulse rating, and it calms the nerves. It provokes tears of pain, and it provokes tears of joy. It rakes up memories of the distant past, and it energises toward a new future. It is the soundtrack to both life and death, and to everything in between.

As music physically fills all of the nooks and crannies of a room, even seeping beyond through walls, so it wends and weaves its way into all aspects of human life. It is a uniquely powerful medium, as influential as it is ubiquitous.

Music invariably and unavoidably embodies the character, culture, politics, and worldview from which it originates. Music cannot be extracted from these rich and complex contexts. To analyse music purely in terms of its style, cadence, melody, and instrumentation is to strip it of its life and bearings. Music thus abstracted either aspires to a divine separation from the nitty-gritty of our daily existence full of its struggles and joys, or else debases it to a sterile and meaningless wasteland similarly devoid of humanity but off the other end.

Truths from distant cultures?

Music in the Bible never falls into these traps. It is thoroughly earthed, birthed in reality, carved in experience, moved by the dynamics of empires and families. Kings and beggars, priests and barbarians, prophets and fishermen – even angels and demons join the fray. Battles, feasts, prisons, heavens. The Bible is unafraid to mix politics and religion with the heights and depths of human glory and depravity – and music pops up in the midst of it all, like a mischievous mouse nibbling in the cupboards or scurrying across the attic, a witness and mirror to what is really going on. More than that, music can play the role of protagonist, a vital participant in history that can by turns lead the way or follow the deeper trends.

Music appears in many different contexts and situations in the Bible. These provide more than just fascinating historical insights into the role of music in millennia past. The Bible declares itself to be the very Word of God: true, infallible, directly inspired by the Spirit of God. There is weight and significance, therefore, to what it has to say about music. We can learn about the purpose of music in God’s will for human life and history. We can learn about some of the legitimate and illegitimate uses and effects of music. Motives are laid bare and misconceptions are laid to rest.

I believe that how the Bible refers to music is instructive for us today, and not only for music as traditionally understood but also for the creative arts in general and for noise music in particular. Timeless principles colour and direct the Bible’s narrative. That they are described and expressed and hinted at in this particular ancient document is no barrier to their applicability across time and culture. On the contrary, I believe that as it is uniquely God’s Word, the Bible offers vital foundations and perspectives for music of all cultures and eras.

And what of noise music? Every subculture has its emphases and idiosyncrasies, and because noise music is just as much human activity as any other form of music, so it also falls under the reach of certain norms, principles, and possibilities that come under music’s general scope.

Lots to explore!

So here is a taster of some of the topics which I hope to consider through this series, drawing from the diverse array of Bible passages where music plays its part:

  • Music and culture
  • Music and singing
  • Music and tools
  • Music and craftsmanship
  • Music and service
  • Music and celebration
  • Music and festivals
  • Music and ceremony
  • Music and ritual
  • Music and worship
  • Music and sacrifice
  • Music and mourning
  • Music and justice
  • Music and war
  • Music and healing
  • Music and demons
  • Music and angels
  • Music and nature
  • Music and power
  • Music and subversion
  • Music and church
  • Music and heaven
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