Bypassing the intellect

As I age, more of my cherished myths implode.

As I age, more of my cherished myths implode. For example, I had long proudly defended the Christian Church as a patron of the arts, encouraging creativity.

Not so, apparently.

True, Michelangelo created magnificent statues, art, and architecture for the Vatican. But most musical compositions we associate with religion were sponsored by European princes, not by the church.

Research by my choir’s music director, Fran Barton, suggests that the institutional church actually restricted creativity in music.

Perhaps it’s because music is a different kind of language. Music is not like other forms of art. Words can be defined, controlled. So can visual images. But music is a free spirit. It is neither representational, like painting and sculpture; nor intellectual, like words.

Because music appeals directly to our emotions, primitive people believed it must have come as a gift from the gods. Changing musical idioms would be like repudiating what the gods had given.

Judaism and Christianity abolished pagan gods. But the pagan attitude carried over. Some kinds of music were considered acceptable; others were not. So when new instruments were invented, they were often outlawed from churches.

The organ, for example. Today, many congregations would recoil in horror at replacing their magnificent pipe organs with kazoos, theremins, or Caribbean steel drums. But for a long time, the organ was bitterly opposed. Martin Luther declared, “The organ in worship is a sign of Baal.”

While the church refined its traditional chants, street minstrels composed melodic ballads. People experimented with the sounds of pan pipes, fiddles, cornets, tambourines….

The church typically denounced these new creations as “instruments of the devil.”

Methodists were renowned for their singing. Charles Wesley wrote over 1,500 hymns. But his brother John Wesley, founder of Methodism, apparently stated, “I have no objection to instruments of music in our chapels, provided they are neither heard nor seen.”

Perhaps the strictest churches were Presbyterian. Here in Canada, notes music historian Bruce Harding, one Ontario synod decreed, “Instrumental music in public worship is not approved or permitted by this Church…. Take order that no such innovation be introduced in any congregation…”

Bishop John Spong recalled his mother’s church: “They sang no hymns in worship, since hymns were human creations, and they believed that only the words of God should be heard in church, so their hymnal consisted of the 150 psalms set to music.”

With a severely limited range of music, at that. One Canadian Psalter authorized just twelve melodies!

Amazingly, you can still find websites which argue that musical instruments don’t belong in worship, because the Bible makes no mention of early Christian congregations using them.

The attitude derives, I think, not from the Bible but from fear. Music – as philosophers like Hegel and Schopenhauer reasoned – bypasses our conscious intellect to touch the subconscious.

That’s what makes music powerful. That’s what makes it dangerous.

Dangerous? Yes, indeed. Remember the public outcry over Elvis Presley’s gyrations? Over rock music in general? More recently, over rap or hip-hop?

I’m afraid we’re still afraid of anything we don’t understand and can’t control.

 

 

Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author of 17 books and several thousand magazine and newspaper articles. He welcomes comments; rewrite@shaw.ca.

Just Posted

Reel Reviews: A cure for anger

We say, “Purge it up, goofballs.”

Kelowna families honour the dead by releasing butterflies

The Nicholson matriarchs release 33 butterflies

Carr’s Landing Art Tour showcases local talent

14th annual tour in Lake Country July 28-29 and Aug. 4-5

Thieves on the loose in Lake Country

The RCMP is looking for thieves who stole from vehicles and a liquor store

Indie film lovers unite in Kelowna

The third annual IndieFest starts today

REPLAY: B.C.’s best video this week

In case you missed it, here’s a look at replay-worthy highlights from across the province this week

Course veterans seize victory in Peach City Classic

The first place titles in this year’s triathlon belonged to returning competitors.

Vernon writers launch online workshop for teens, young adults

Storymakers’ Raise Your Voice workshop seeks to help women writers uncover and use voice

Former NHL goalie Ray Emery drowns in Lake Ontario

Police say the 35-year-old’s death appears to be a ‘case of misadventure’

Air quality statement warns of smoky air for Kamloops area

Environment ministry says area on north side of Thompson River may be affected by wildfire smoke

Pussy Riot claims on-field protest at World Cup final

Russian protest group claimed responsibility after four people ran onto field in police uniforms

Fans party on Montreal streets after French World Cup win

To city is home to nearly 57,000 French nationals

East Shuswap Road wildfire’s fire line being controlled

Firefighters saved an eagle’s nest and eaglets while controlling fire lines

Your reviews: John Fogerty rocks the South Okanagan

Photos and reviews from fans in Penticton at John Fogerty’s concert in the SOEC

Most Read