“Music cleanses the understanding; inspires it, and lifts it into a realm which it would not reach if it were left to itself,” said the preacher and abolitionist, Henry Ward Beecher. Music does indeed enhance our understanding of life. Our culture is made up of our belief (or lack of belief) in God, our government, and our amusement (coupled with art). Some musical genres have impacted our culture far more than others. Three musical genres stand out from the rest because they have impacted our worldviews and our lifestyle in a ground-breaking way. Christian, classical, and rock music are considered great because they have brought revolutionary changes in religion, politics, and entertainment.
Christian music has been around since the beginning of time. True Christian music is taken from, or points to, the Bible. The old hymns plainly declare the Gospel of Jesus Christ while Christian praise music comes directly from the Psalms. In the same way, perspectives on politics and entertainment also echo the Biblical perspective. The Bible teaches that Christians should obey their authority, including government. 1 Peter 2:13-14 says, “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.” Christians are not to rebel against physical government, but are to be soldiers of the Lord to stop the onslaught of Satan. The following stanza of the hymn, “Onward Christian Soldiers” perfectly embodies the Biblical attitude and, therefore, the attitude of Christian music toward government:
“Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane,
But the church of Jesus constant will remain.
Gates of hell can never 'gainst that church prevail;
We have Christ’s own promise, and that cannot fail.”
Christian music is used for the praise and worship of Jesus Christ. Hymns and praise music are used in most church services. Contemporary artists now hold concerts, but the traditional purpose of Christian music is not to entertain the listener, but to give glory to Jesus Christ. Unquestionably, the cultural impact of Christian music is certainly great because its core belief system and its values that Jesus Christ brought, have taken the world by storm. This early Christian liturgical music was part of the foundation for another great genre, Western classical music.
“Classical music is the art music produced in, or rooted in, the traditions of Western liturgical and secular music encompassing a broad period from roughly the 11th century to present times.”1 Just as most of the beliefs of the Christian music genre are rooted and are found in the Bible, the ideology behind classical music can be found in the lives and thoughts of its composers. Catholicism, Christianity, and deism are the main religions of the fathers of classical music. “The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul,” said Johann Sebastian Bach. George Frideric Handel wrote his famous Messiah and included only Biblical text in this opera. However, not all classical musicians were Christians. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, though raised a Catholic, in his later life became a free-mason, and in doing so, adopted its deistic belief system.“I pay no attention whatever to anybody's praise or blame. I simply follow my own feelings,” said Mozart. Though Classical music may have in some way influenced government politics, it is known mostly for changing the politics and customs of the musical world. Through the classical music movement, a standardized notation system was developed. By reading this notation, one knew precisely what notes to hit, how fast to play, and the rhythm of the piece. As far as entertainment goes, classical music brought about a new way of seeing (or hearing) music. The new technique and science that was brought to music was a wonderful contrast to the mono-phonic (Gregorian) chant of the previous era. Classical music is still enjoyed today, centuries later, for its uplifting and cleansing attributes. Some research has suggested that listening to Mozart's music has beneficial effects on the brain and can actually make one smarter. In the final consideration of classical music, one can affirm that this music, which has survived for centuries, has changed our society for the better. It wouldn't be until centuries after the first classical music composers lived that another great genre would walk onto the scene.
During the 1960s, major changes in the culture of America and the United Kingdom were taking place. The Vietnam War, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the African-American Civil Rights Movement were only a few of the many events which shaped America during that decade. As the people started to change, it was no surprise that their music changed as well. At this point in history, a powerful form of music was born: rock. Rock music was a new genre incorporating many other genres into itself. “It has its roots in 1940s and 1950s rock and roll, itself heavily influenced by rhythm and blues and country music, and also drew strongly on a number of other genres, including blues and folk and incorporated influences from jazz and classical music.”2 Well received by the public, rock music became an effective tool for the spread of ideas. The views of rock music, just like any other music style, can be known by examining the lives of its music composers. As a general guide, a study of the band that “started it all” will indicate the underlying belief system of rock music. In the early 1960s, a band known as The Beatles sang of peace and love to the public. Though they had this philosophy of world betterment through love, Christianity was far removed from their beliefs. This new philosophy of “give peace a chance,” was enthralling to the world. It seemed as if there was an answer to the problems of society. The song “Imagine” by John Lennon suggest socialistic views of government.
“Imagine there's no countries ...”
“And no religion too ...”
“Imagine no possessions...”
“A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...”
The Beatles reached the top of the entertainment industry selling the most records of all time. An interesting quote by John Lennon states, “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue with that; I'm right and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now...” This quote, although enraging the public, was merely a statement of the popularity of the Beatles and how the impact of rock music had suppressed the religion of the culture. Incorporating their personal perspectives of peace, government, and religion, The Beatles laid the groundwork for all the rock musicians of the future to follow. Many other musicians followed in their footsteps and brought new ideas into the mold which further changed society. Rock music, though a relatively young genre, has altered our culture, and in doing so, has gained renown in musical history.
In the final analysis, one can only wonder what society would be like without music. Would our “understanding” be “inspired” and “lifted” into that higher “realm” of creativity? Most certainly not! What sadness to think that no musical praise would be lifted toward Heaven, nor would the cry of freedom be accompanied by the drums of war. A bleak day never to be made brighter with the sounds of whistling flutes and cheerful pianos. Yes, the miracle called music has given our world a channel with which to express our highest hopes and our deepest pains.
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