Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

When Hooligans Bach Down

Posted on July 23, 2009 at 2:19 pm, by Ben

I recently ran across this fascinating City Journal article by Theodore Dalrymple, an author and columnist with many worthy observations and commentaries on modern culture trends.

His article raises an interesting question: if the emotional messages of classical/orchestral music are merely subjective, neutral, or as vague as most today give them credit for being, how could this music have such a profound effect on people– even those who haven’t developed an appetite for it?

Staying recently in a South Yorkshire town called Rotherham—described in one guidebook as “murky,” an inadequate word for the place—I was interested to read in the local newspaper how the proprietors of some stores are preventing hooligans from gathering outside to intimidate and rob customers. They play Bach over loudspeakers, and this disperses the youths in short order; they flee the way Count Dracula fled before holy water, garlic flowers, and crucifixes. The proprietors had previously tried a high-pitched noise generator whose mosquito-like whine only those younger than 20 could detect. This method, too, proved effective, but the owners abandoned it out of fear that it might damage the youths’ hearing and infringe upon their human rights, leading to claims for compensation.

There is surely something deeply emblematic about the use of one of the great glories of Western civilization, the music of Bach, to prevent the young inheritors of that civilization from committing crimes.

Click here to read the rest of this article.

Music: the Savior of the World?

Posted on June 17, 2009 at 12:45 am, by Ben

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“I believe in God, Mozart and Beethoven, and likewise their disciples and apostles; I believe in the Holy Spirit and the truth of the one, indivisible Art; I believe that this Art proceeds from God, and lives within the hearts of all illumined men; I believe that he who once has bathed in the sublime delights of this high Art, is consecrate to Her for ever, and never can deny Her; I believe that through Art all men are saved.”Richard Wagner

“I despise a world which does not feel that music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.” – Ludwig Van Beethoven

Music does not possess the power to save because music is not our Savior.

Though created by God with specific designs and intentions (a topic for another day), music was not created to be the savior of men or the savior of culture—that claim belongs to Christ. Furthermore, nowhere does scripture indicate that music is the agent God uses to open the eyes of the spiritually blind or to spiritually awaken those who are dead in their sins, but throughout it clearly outlines what is: the grace of God through faith by the hearing of the Word.

But surely, if we could just show an unbeliever the evidence of Creation—perhaps through a really beautiful and emotional piece of music—and tell him how reasonable it is to believe in God… that would be enough to convince him of his error and prick his heart unto repentance, right? No, because human unbelief is not due to a lack of earthly evidence, but a complete inability to properly understand the created things of God because we are spiritually dead and blind in our natural state. Fallen man requires Christ as his savior because he is in desperate need of the eye-opening saving grace that no amount of evidence, emotional stimulation, or even music (however beautiful), can provide. Scripture portrays a crystal-clear dichotomy between the spiritually dead and the spiritually alive in Christ. The notion that the dead can make himself live is ridiculous, and the suggestion that the blind can see for himself the way of light is utterly absurd… So why do we even pretend to believe that a spiritually blind, dead man can discern the salvation of Christ through the hearing of music when we are clearly told that Christ saves through the hearing of His Word?

Most theological blunders are birthed when we conform the Word of God to our individual lifestyles and not our lifestyles to the Word. If saving faith was triggered merely by an emotional jolt souls could be saved by the music we write and play, seemingly eliminating the need to stand up in times of intense persecution to proclaim, preach, teach and uphold the Word of God or evangelize to the lost (Mat 28:18-20, Col 1:28, Rom 10:14). God forbid that we ever replace His mandates and commissions with ones of our own construction.

I praise God that He has opened my eyes to behold a revelation higher even than music, and that I can stand in confident opposition to the teachings of Wagner and proclaim with joy that the salvation of mankind lies not in art or music but in Christ, the only true Savior.

How to Study a Film Score – Part 1: Why Study?

Posted on May 7, 2009 at 4:08 pm, by Ben

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“Students’ questions are always very pointed about ‘How do you do this, how do you do that, how do you write in these styles, etc.’ My response is always to ask, ‘Have you dissected the popular songs of all the eras to find out what makes them work? Have you analyzed them to find out what the chord progressions are, what the melodic tricks are, what chord tones on what chords created a certain sound in a certain era? And can you sit down and write a song in that style because you have spent hundreds of hours dissecting those songs?’ And they say, ‘Not yet.’ Well, I have. I have spent thousands of hours dissecting and playing those songs. It’s a matter of craft, it’s a matter of study.”
~ Alf Clausen, Film and TV composer

Great music takes a great deal of hard work to create. It won’t just “come,” no matter what your music teacher says about “letting the music flow through you”. Music is not a spirit. Music is a medium of communication and as composers we need to learn to direct the vast amount of communicative potential it possesses. We can learn how to do this through careful observation of creation, hard work, diligent study and academic humility. Proverbs tells us that “the hand of the diligent makes rich” (Pro 10:4) and “The desire of the sluggard puts him to death, For his hands refuse to work;” (Pro 21:25), so why do we think we can experience great musical success if we don’t work for it? We live in a world where reality is defined by God rather than man, and if we want to succeed in it we need to live according to the principles of creation that He has placed therein, such as: “Whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” (Gal 6:7)

If you don’t sow, don’t expect to reap.

It is interesting to note that in times past this (correct) attitude towards honest toil used to be the culturally accepted norm, even in “artistic” fields. Rushdoony points this out in his article “Genius”:

“In Christian Europe, the artist was not an artist in the modern sense. He was a craftsman, an artisan, and a businessman who was a specialist in his field. …The Christian artisan did his work like any other skilled specialist, without any pretensions.”
~ R.J.Rushdoony, from Roots of Reconstruction

Noted historian Paul Johnson has this to say about Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), a Christian artisan who arguably became the most influential musical figure of the last millennium:

“Bach was by far the most hardworking of the great musicians (emphasis mine), taking huge pains with everything he did and working out the most ephemeral scores in their logical and musical tonality, everything written down in his fine, firm hand as though his life depended on it—as, in a sense, was true, for if Bach had scamped a musical duty, or performed it with anything less than the perfection he demanded, he clearly could not have lived with himself. It is impossible to find, in any of his scores, time-serving repetitions, shortcuts, carelessness, or even the smallest hint of vulgarity. He served up the highest quality, in performance and composition, day after day, year after year, despite the fact that his employers, as often as not, could not tell the good from the bad or even from the mediocre.”
~ Paul Johnson, from the book, Creators

Consider Bach’s theory on academic success:

“I was obliged to be industrious. Whoever is equally industrious will succeed equally well.”

Here’s some food for thought:

bach-190If Bach, who did not have as great a wealth of musical content to learn from, or technologies as advanced as we have to benefit from today, was able learn so much about music in his 65 years—couldn’t we (theoretically) have just as much influence on the course of music history as he did?

No.

At least, this is what I’ve been told by several musicians upon their first hearing that I was an aspiring composer. They’ve informed me that there is no possible way I could ever be as good as Bach, Mozart, or Beethoven. It’s just…impossible. From the perspective of my flesh, this is a convenient lie because my ego would rather believe my music is shoddy because I’m inherently under-privileged than because I’m a lazy student. Ouch. Were these above-mentioned men providentially granted gifts and abilities by God to be proficient in music? I believe so… but I also believe that any one of them would be deeply offended if you suggested he achieved that level of proficiency without having to work at it.

Hard work is distasteful to many, so it’s not surprising that scores of musicians today embrace an emotional, mystical and spiritualistic viewpoint that dismisses music-as-craft requiring hard work and industry to achieve excellence in it—because excellence is arbitrary!

Fact: If you want to write for films, the going will be tough.

There is no such thing as an easy path to musical greatness, and the relativistic “I just gotta wait for the right mood to hit” attitude is going to be completely unacceptable to any good director because a wise filmmaker understands that composition is a matter of craft, it’s a matter of study.

Will I ever be as masterful a musical craftsman as Bach? Beethoven? …John Williams? That’s really hard to imagine, but if I convince myself that that’s impossible and if I never strive after excellence with as much unrelenting dedication as they did, I never can be.