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Apollo vs. Dionysus

 A music theorist whom I have found very helpful is Manfred Clynes. Clynes argues that music communicates through its natural connection with emotion. I can best explain Clynes’ theories at this point by quoting from “Music Hath Charms . . .” by Iaian D. Edgwater in Biocultural Approaches to the Emotions edited by Alexander Laban Hinton:

Linking musical form to emotion has also been a major project of Clynes (1977; Clynes and Nettheim 1982). His “sentics” theory states that “(f)or each basic emotion there exists a specific dynamic form (as a brain programme) which can be expressed in a number of modalities — for example, vocalised sound, touch — involving motor action” (Clynes 1989:328). Emotion can thus be universally expressed and communicated, because the “dynamic form” associated with each emotion is a property of the organism, not of cultural convention. Such dynamic forms may also be fereted out of their various “modalities,” including music, and examined for clues about the underlying “brain programmes” which support them (167).

A further step that is helpful to my own research in this area is that, according to Reuning in this article in Concordian Theological Quarterly by Daniel Reuning, Clynes theory states that “music is a communicator of independent forces, namely, two kinds of emotions, that illicit from us two very different reactions” (18). Clynes uses the terms Dionysian and Apollonian to describe these two distinct kinds of emotional reactions to music.

Both Dionysus and Apollo were mythological Greek gods associated with music. Apollo was the god of reason and logic, and was considered the god of music since the Greeks thought of good music as a great expression of order and patterns (a la Pythagorus and Plato). Dionysus, on the other hand, was the god of wine and revelry, and was worshiped with loud, raucous music accompanied by pipes and drums.

Clynes uses these terms, then, to describe two very different kinds of musics that illicit two very different kinds of emotional responses. Stay with me here — this has great application to emotion in worship, especially how Edwards articulated it.

I’ll quote Reuning to explain what Clynes means:

Music that communicates emotions with a Dionysian force is that kind which excites us to enjoy our emotions by being thoroughly involved or engrossed in them with our entire person. Our enjoyment of the emotion then becomes ego-directed, driven by the desire for self-gratification. This direction often shows itself in keen physical involvement; people become emotionally involved through stomping of the feet, swaying of the body, clapping of the hands, and waving oft he arms. Music that solicits from us this kind of emotional response allows us to enjoy our emotions from the inside and very experientially. This kind of music is clearly anthropocentric in nature, because it turns man to himself, rather than away from himself, with the result that he becomes the appreciating center of his own emotions and experiences. Herein lies the goal of all entertainment and popular music, which must please or gratify the self if it is going to sell.

He then cites Martin Luther as one who used such a distinction to determine what music was acceptable for sacred purposes:

Luther used the word “carnal” to describe this approach and produced his hymn books and choirbook, so as to wean people away from it.

His music and that of the Lutheran heritage communicates a message with an Apollonian force, which allows our emotions to be enjoyed, while at the same time retaining control and mental freedom. We are relieved of the urgent requirements of our inner drives. Under Apollonian influence our emotions are viewed empathically or contemplatively in a more detached fashion, so that they might always be subject to our discretionand judgment. Since the major point of the Reformation, as of Scripture itself, was to turn man away from everything within himself as the source of hope and assurance of salvation — to the grace of God alone, earned for us by Christ Himself — it was logical for Lutherans to use Apollonian music. Man-directed Dionysian music would only confuse or contradict the message through its anthropocentric emotional forces. Just as hymns and spiritual songs with words full of Dionysian content, doting upon human experience and feelings, are incongruent with the biblical proclamation of the Gospel, so also is music that revels in Dionysian emotionalism. Thus, because music has so much influence on one’s understanding of the Gospel, Apollonian reinforcement was the obvious choice. Furthermore, this choice is just as relevant to us today, since the emotional forces in music keep on conveying their unique messages, remaining uneffected by changes in time or environment — a truly universal expression (18-19)!

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.