Recent Posts
Perhaps the most frequent objection levelled at those wishing to see beauty restored to a [more]
Is your church looking for a pastor? If it is not doing so right now, [more]
Jon Pratt and Emmanuel Malone We welcome back Emmanuel Malone as he answers three more [more]
Our task as churches is to make disciples, and this happens when we use the [more]
The discussion of beauty among Christians is often stymied before it starts. Some of this [more]

A Musical Analysis of Scott Roley’s "And Can It Be?" by Timothy Shafer

Dr. Timothy Shafer is a professor of music at Penn State University.

In recent years, in response to criticism of CCM based on shallow lyrics, some CCM songwriters have begun to assign the doctrinally dense and theologically astute words of great hymns to pop/rock style musical settings. PCA pastor and songwriter Kevin Twit, along with a number of enlisted friends collectively known as Indelible Grace, are among those who have determined to set vast numbers of great hymn texts to inferior musical compositions. A brief theoretical examination of the objective musical characteristics of the songs may help us to get a better understanding of the skill level and compositional craftsmanship in view in Twit and friends’ efforts.

Let’s consider the objective musical characteristics for just one of these works for the time being: Scott Roley’s retooling of “And Can It Be?” You can look at the music and hear the work performed here:

and you can see and hear a performance of the work here:

In this song, generally speaking, the verses are poorly set for congregational singing, the phrases are incessantly repetitive, excessive syncopations are employed to the point of being cliché, the harmonies are simplistic and repetitive, the character of the melody is not congruent with the text, consideration for textual declamation is poor to non-existent, the connotation is profane, and the incongruity of the musical expression with the text results in a violation of propriety in worship.

Consider the following specific points regarding Scott Roley’s setting of “And Can it Be?”

*There are 10 clauses of text per verse in this setting. These 10 clauses of text are all set to exactly the same musical rhythm without regard for the natural poetic structure and inflection of the text. Over four verses the congregation sings this identical rhythm 40 times. Charting the rhythmic structure of the phrases looks like this:

vs. 1 with chorus a a a a a a a a a a
vs. 2 with chorus a a a a a a a a a a
vs. 3 with chorus a a a a a a a a a a
vs. 4 with chorus a a a a a a a a a a

*The rhythmic device of syncopation (irregular stress placed between strong beats) is used incessantly, again with no regard to the natural declamation of the text. Indeed, the syncopation is so excessive that no single note in the entire song was written to be sung without syncopation. In fact, the first note of each phrase (each of which begins on weak beat four) is the only note per phrase that was even placed on a beat; all others rhythms are off-beats.

*The excessive syncopation and identical rhythm for each clause of text draws undue attention to the rhythmic aspect of the song. In Scripture, melody, not rhythm, is the dominant facet of the music that is addressed.

*There are three extremely similar structural pitch patterns for each the ten clauses of text. The distinctive leap of an ascending perfect fifth at the same pitch level is emphasized repeatedly in 8 of the 10 phrases, filled in with seconds. This means that over four verses, this rising and distinguishing leap (known as a melodic motive) is sung identically 32 times without development or variation. In the remaining two phrases, the interval of a fifth at the identical pitch level is again emphasized but by range rather than leap, providing the only momentary relief from what otherwise begins to sound like animal calling. (Try singing an ascending perfect fifth 32 times in a row to see what I mean!)

*The pitch pattern for the first four phrases of each verse is presented identically. Over four verses the congregation sings this identical pitch pattern 16 times. Though it is extremely repetitive, still, of melody, rhythm, and harmony, the melodic aspect of Roley’s composition provides the most variety. Charting the phrase structure looks like this:

verse a a a a b b
chorus c* c1* c c1

* note that there is internal repetition in each of the ‘c’ and ‘c1’ phrases

*There are two rudimentary chord progressions repeated for all ten clauses of text. Over four verses one of these chord progressions is sung 32 times (I – ii – IV – V). The repetitions occur with minimal relief; see the pattern of repetition below with ‘a’ representing the I – ii – IV – V chord progression:

vs. 1 with chorus a a a a b b a a a a
vs. 2 with chorus a a a a b b a a a a
vs. 3 with chorus a a a a b b a a a a
vs. 4 with chorus a a a a b b a a a a

*The extreme repetitiveness in melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic patterns results in a chant like effect similar to mantras used in some Eastern religions.

*While repetition is a necessary component of composition, and can be used for great beauty in the hands of a skillful composer, the excessive repetitions in so many musical facets of this tune are indicative of compositional minimalism, requiring little skill, thought, effort, or sacrifice on the part of the composer.

*The extreme repetitiveness in the categories of melody, harmony, and rhythm are indicative of the kind of music produced by the American pop/rock industry. Internal repetitions like those described above are used in this industry for the purposes of musical expediency, quick public acceptance, and sales. Extreme repetitiveness is also a large factor in the trendiness of pop music. The music wears thin quickly. As we adopt music in the church with these objective characteristics we leave the next generation of saints (our children!) the musical equivalent of bell-bottom pants and leisure suits in worship.

Congruency of the musical expression with the textual expression
*Of all the repetitions listed from among the various musical elements, the excessive use of syncopation is the most extreme and therefore most notable. This element thus emerges as the dominant expressive characteristic of the song and places the rhythmic element at the forefront of the song’s expression. The constant off-beat sensation is not only difficult for a congregation to do reasonably well without rehearsal, but even when done well, results in a musical character that expresses agitation. Agitation as a musical affect is not conducive to the character of the text, which expresses awe and wonder at our inclusion in Christ’s love. This is a direct violation of the Apostle Paul’s exhortation for all things in worship to be done in a “fitting” way ().

*The likeness of this music to the kind of music produced by the American pop/rock industry is undeniable. At best, compositions like this as well as the use of this kind of musical imitation of the culture for corporate worship cannot be considered obedience to God’s repeated commands to worship in the beauty of His holiness. At worst, adoptions of cultural musical practices such as this in Christian worship can be viewed as a kind of syncretism similar to that found in .

*The combined emphases on repetitive rhythm, syncopation, and simplistic, repetitive harmonies and melodic motives indelibly stamps this song with the sensual musical affect of the pop/rock dance music of the second half of the twentieth century. It is not obedient to the command to worship God in reverence and awe and therefore is not appropriate for corporate worship.

The objective musical characteristics described in this one song can be found in the vast majority of what is termed CCM and currently found in the worship of the church. It is these very characteristics in fact, that are endemic to the style. I hope you can see by this brief analysis of one song that the musical settings of these texts simply do not represent the musical first-fruits produced by the Christian church. This is certainly not what is intended by scriptural admonitions to offer the Lord a sacrifice of praise () or subdue the earth according to the Cultural Mandate ().

A skilled and trained composer (as Scripture described musicians in the church) would have been instructed in how to control these various elements of music (melody, harmony, rhythm, textual setting, repetition, variation, sequence, etc.) in order to set the text in a manner that most beautifully and expressively reflects its character. Scott Roley, the composer of this tune, does not demonstrate compositional skill or training in this song. Consequently, the music requires very little skill to play. This directly violates the Lord’s command to musicians to play skillfully ().

In contrast to the minimalist compositional craftsmanship we find in evidence in Roley’s setting of “And Can it Be?,” we are commanded in Scripture to subdue the earth (including music), worship in the beauty of His holiness, bring the Lord our first fruits, play skillfully, and offer a sacrifice of praise. Inasmuch as the leadership at evangelical churches makes decisions to choose music by criteria other than those described in Scripture, as a body of believers we dishonor the Lord with our worship. Rather than “reaching the lost,” and “reflecting the culture,” we should be re-evaluating the process by which we make our musical decisions in worship by abandoning the attempt at accommodating our depraved, slothful tastes and instead reforming ourselves to the Scriptures seeking the biblical principles by which music should be chosen for worship.

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department 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.

79 Responses to A Musical Analysis of Scott Roley’s "And Can It Be?" by Timothy Shafer

  1. Hi Scott,
    "Extreme repetitiveness is also a large factor in the trendiness of pop music. The music wears thin quickly. As we adopt music in the church with these objective characteristics we leave the next generation of saints (our children!) the musical equivalent of bell-bottom pants and leisure suits in worship."
    I think this is an extremely important point, one that some of our more conservative Christian musicians would do well to consider. I have listened to some of our more current music that loses its luster after a few hearings – or after you get tired of flashy orchestration that "puffs" the sound rather than really accomplishing anything musically. (I don't know the terms to describe what I am saying.)
    On the other hand, I have classical CDs that I play over and over and just don't get tired of because of the rich musical achievements they make. The same can be said for some of my Kings College choral CDs and others that use a much more complicated musical styling than is used in even some conservative Christian music.
    I hope that all makes some sense.
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  2. Good comments, Don. I think we do need to strive better for what C. S. Lewis called "thickness" in our church music, that is, qualities that will make it endure.

  3. I imagine C.S. Lewis would probably listen to some CCM if he were alive today.

    Or he would have spent his hours on more profitable, meaningful pursuits (like feeding the poor and hungry, showing love to the whores and sinners out there, getting his hands dirty–true religion, remember that verse?) than filling blogs with detailed analysis/criticisms of current musical trends.
    This Pharisaical waste of God-given time breaks my heart when there are souls out there in need of the tangible love of Christ being poured out on them–not tedious bickering over musical tastes.
    Praise God for the John the Baptists who really could care less about pressed suits, perfect cadence and religiously tended blogs but who, with wild and untamed abandon declare the coming of the Lord in whatever style seems appropriate for the time and place.
    And I'd suggest Don Miller's Blue Like Jazz but I imagine you would probably 'Krino' him into the ground so I won't bother.

  4. Can I take a stab at what turns off people like Gwen? These "objective characteristics" are, more accurately, "the stylistic traits of art music." While I wholeheartedly agree with the conclusions of this article, I question the presumption that stylistic traits of art music are the aesthetic yardstick by which we measure all other musics. (They're handy for "shooting" at pop/rock, but they would also knock holes in much folk [church!] music.) While art music does represent the very best that man has created with what God has given him, we can't demand that all music (even church music) be art music, stylistically. When we do, we unfairly drive people away (as Gwen demonstrated- even though there are other differences, too).

    To offer a fair stylistic analysis of this song, there are, in fact, relative strengths: rhythmic dissonance and metric dissonance (not just the "beat", but the other layers- they're more sophisticated than they're given credit for here; and "agitation" is the result of more factors than just rhythmic dissonance: 2-against-3 in a Mendelssohn Song Without Words creates tranquility as the 2's remain unaffected by the 3's!), countermelody, disruption of hypermeter and harmonic progression/prolongations at key structural points (not at all unlike art music), and consistent functional progression. I'm not defending the song- I rather despise it!- but objectively, this analysis wasn't entirely fair. I'm eager for stylistic analysis to be rightly invoked and applied in our circles.

    These things being said, I appreciate and concur with the main point (if I may offer my own summary): This song is written in a the pop/rock style, which, I believe, is not the best choice for glorifying or reflecting God in our culture.

  5. Gwen is making a point that is often argued on this subject. Over-analyzing is a definite temptation when struggling to determine the right path. In an effort to avoid becoming "Pharisaical", some advocate under-analysis. It's "no big deal". Why can't we just "major on the majors"?
    The person making that statement or asking that question has overlooked one thing; they have made themselves the final determiner of what is a "big deal" or "major". While they argue one thing (or the other) is of monumental importance, others argue the same of something else!
    I believe many of the issues you discuss here are important; that is my opinion. I guess that puts Gwen and I on equal footing!

  6. I appreciate the discussion here. This is the kind of dialog I would like to see happen more. Analysis of songs like this is always a lose-lose kind of thing. If I simply write philosophical articles and make no specific application, I get e-mails and comments saying, "You're too nebulous! Draw specific conclusions!" I've even had people pay for my subscription to Napster so that I could download songs and analyze them.
    But then when we do offer analysis like this, the cry becomes, "You're being reductionistic! Even classical and folk music contains these elements!"
    I sympathize with both sides, I really do. I have seen some reductionistic analysis that I don't believe really helps the debate at all. The problem is that what makes certain music "bad" is limited to a short list of "unacceptable elements" when there really is much more to what makes it bad.
    On the other hand, I think analysis like this can be very helpful in that it at least gets us thinking along musical lines of communication when evaluating a piece of music. In other words, when evaluating a song, we're not asking, "Do I like it," but what are the elements in this song communicating and does that fit with a Christian worldview?
    The bottom line for me is this: analysis like the one Tim offered above, when viewed in a vacuum, can be unhelpful. But when it's set aside the broader philosophical arguments that I try to develop on this site, I think occasional practical applications like this can be beneficial. So if you found this analysis too reductionistic, please read the other philosophical kinds of arguments on this site to give the analysis context.
    I'm curious, Dan, how you would evaluate this song. You assert that you believe it to be unacceptable for worship, and that it is written in a "pop/rock" style. So what kind of musical analysis would you give it?

  7. I'm very sorry that Gwen has been "turned off" by an attempt to help folks discern good from bad quality music. But Gwen, in your charges against me, you have set up a false dichotomy. You assume by my writing on this topic, that I cannot possibly have spent time evangelizing or helping the poor. It is in fact possible that one can be very active in those areas while also being immersed in writing on a topic of interest. In fact, you have no way of knowing how active I am in these areas. It is certainly important to provide for the poor and to show love to others. These are important things. But they do not preclude work in other important biblical things, too, though, such as the worship of God. In fact, the Westminster Confession says that this is the highest activity we have while on earth.

    I obviously disagree with Gwen's implicit assertion that there is no place in Christianity for discernment in the arts. "Musician" is one of the very first professions mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 4). As part of their calling, Christian musicians are to use their gifts, skills, and training in the service of the Lord (Psalm 33). As Scott forcefully points out elsewhere in this site, and in his upcoming book, the form with which Christ is proclaimed matters. Moses demonstrated to Joshua that not all singing was singing fit for God's people (Exodus 32:17-18) but rather that some music is more fit for idolatrous revelry. Paul commands us in worship to do all things in a fitting way (I Cor. 14:40). Scripture elsewhere demonstrates that there are songs fit for singing joyfully to the Lord, songs fit for mourning, and songs fit for the prostitute. The church at large has erred in adopting the sensual music of the prostitute for its worship of the Lord while its musicians have sometimes stood idly by, and other times have joined in the frivolity. My efforts are aimed at helping to identify the characteristics of music that objectively express that sensuality. My analysis is done out of a sense that I have an obligation to my brothers and sisters in Christ to provide rationale when I make a claim. It grieves me that this will unfortunately offend some people who are emotionally attached to the music they love. Although I am deeply troubled by what is going on musically in the church, I feel charitable toward my brothers and sisters in Christ and desire to provide them with an explanation for the claims I make.

    Dan, I appreciate you writing and am grateful that you come to the same conclusion as the article. Do I understand correctly from your comments that you are arguing for style-specific criticism? That each style is to be subjected to criticism only from within its own parameters? Please correct me if I've misunderstood your statements, but that position simply retreats one level from the idea of "don't criticize my song" to the notion of "don't criticize my style." John Makujina has effectively argued that this position assumes an unbiblical, even Palagean approach to the idea of style whereby all styles/forms are valid and good, unaffected by man's sin. Makujina demonstrates how this argument denies the effect of the Fall on man's creative endeavors in the field of music. Style-specific criticism is an argument that is unfortunately based in relativism and that also amounts to an attempt to prohibit the use of standard analytical tools from being used in the analysis of particular styles. The fact is, all music, no matter its style, time of composition, or place of origin, consists of particular elements of sound that can be evaluated for frequency, proportions, ratios, and interactions and resulting expressions. I can understand where amateurs and laymen might become frustrated in wading through the details of analysis such as this, as Gwen obviously did, but it is part and parcel of the musician's lot to think in such ways about his craft, both from a creative and compositional view, and, from the performer's perspective, interpretively – all to the glory of God.

    Dan, I think if you'll re-read some of what I've said, you would have to agree that you may have misread my analysis. Your assertion that the "objective characteristics" to which I twice refer in the article are better known as the "stylistic traits of art music" is not really accurate. With all due respect, you have tossed a red herring into the discussion with your use of that phrase. I'm not sure where you find in my article a claim or implication that all music in the church should be art music. If you'll re-read it, you'll see that I haven't said or suggested any such thing. Not only that, but I would not, since I don't think it or believe it. Since I haven't implied or stated that all church music be art music, it cannot be that this is the thing that has driven Gwen and others away as you assume. Unless, like you, Gwen misread the article in a manner that erroneously made her think I suggested this. Good folk music holds up very well under a similar kind of analysis.

    I agree with you that there are other factors that bear on music's ability to convey agitation, but rhythm must certainly be considered a (if not the) prime element in such an expression. I would argue that the next most important elements to be considered would be those of dynamics and rate of speed. But I would also suggest that the contributions of these two elements toward the expression would be mostly that of degree (softer, more widely separated syncopations suggesting a more mild agitation, while louder more rapid syncopations, expressing agitations closer to that of anger, hostility, or rage). Other elements (timbre, duration, articulation, pitch variance and direction, etc.) can certainly bear on the affect as well. I'm not sure I understand why you mention the cross-rhythms in a Mendelssohn Song w/o Words. Cross-rhythms are not in question here in this song; the analysis dealt with syncopation, not cross-rhythms. These are fundamentally different types of rhythmic phenomena.

    I am open to hearing more specifics regarding your assertion of the sophistication of the song in question. Could you please show me where I've missed its sophisticated layering? I fail to see the points you mention: disruption of hyper-meter? Prolongation of cadence at structural points? These things just don't occur in this song, Dan. I stand behind my claims that this song is not a skillfully written work, fraught with excessive repetition. Also, I'd be glad to know how you think this analysis was unfair to the song in any other ways.

    As I mentioned Dan, I'm glad that you agree with the main point of the article, and I'm glad to know that you believe that pop/rock music in general should not be used for glorifying or reflecting God in our culture. But other than the fact that you personally despise this particular song, you haven't given reasons for why you would not use pop/rock music in glorifying God. What reasons would you give to one who would ask?

    In Christ, Tim

  8. "I can understand where amateurs and laymen might become frustrated in wading through the details of analysis such as this, as Gwen obviously did"
    Seems I'm not the only one making assumptions…
    This will be my last post here because, to quite plainly honest, I really don't care to spend my time on discussions that really do very little to further the cause of Christ. You are entitled to your opinion and I to mine–mine being no less unholy in the sight of God than you view yours to be.
    Realizing this–I and my fellow contemporary artists/worshipers will be praising our LORD right alongside you and yours someday in Heaven.

  9. Gwen,

    Presuming you're still reading, you're right – the sentence reads as though I assumed you were a layman or an amateur musician. Poor wording choice on my part. I actually thought about that as I wrote it, and decided that the sentence didn't necessarily imply that you were an amateur, which it doesn't. But I do see how it looks that way. I obviously have no idea about your degree of musicianship and didn't mean to imply otherwise. Please accept my apologies.

    I disagree that this discussion doesn't further the cause of Christ. Music is an important media that forms and, as Scott so rightly says, educates our emotions. Scott has an excellent article about orthodoxy, orthopathy, and orthopraxy, where he develops the idea that our emotions affect and influence our will toward obedience to Christ. I hope you will take the time to read his article.


  10. Scott: I understand, agree, and sympathize with your quandry ("overgeneralizing vs. reductionistic"), and I'm sorry to add to it. To the charge of overgeneralizing, though, I would argue that a musical style, and especially musical communication, is always more than the sum of its parts, and cannot be tidily explained via some scientific formula. That's why we have so much debate, and why so much mature discernment is required of us. As far as how I would argue, then, I refer you to my first post's last sentence. (As you know, though, I mostly prefer to "argue" by trying to write something BETTER, but just as attractive…)
    Tim: We arrive at the same ends, but through different means. The above paragraph clarifies the primary differences in our approaches. I find stylistic analysis a better line of argumentation than critical analysis, which I don't believe to be as universal as you do.
    As to style-specific analysis, never fear: I wholeheartedly agree with you and Makujina. My point is that your lengthy analysis is primarily stylistic: it proves much more about the song's style, than its inherent worth. In my opinion, it's when you focus on style, communication, and Scriptural command/principle towards the end of the article that you really get somewhere, both with scholars and with "average contemporary Christians". Perhaps our different foci are complementary, though, and not mutually exclusive.
    Regarding syncopation, mea culpa. I lumped your syncopation discussion in with my own thought on rhythmic/metric dissonance, and made a logical leap in invoking Mendelssohn. As far as those other elements, I'm NOT saying this is a sophisticated piece of music. I'm not impressed by these things; rather, I'm simply listing areas that I do, in fact, hear, that I bet your popular music studies colleagues would focus on. When you ignore them, you risk being labeled unfair.
    As far as how I would argue, I'd stay away from all that critical analysis, and simply state what I already stated in the last sentence of my previous post. But again, that may be complementary to your approach.
    I hope this is all taken in the spirit of sharpening, and not of criticism. We're both fully persuaded, I think, in our own minds. I'm thankful for you and your strong stand.

  11. Is "layman" pejorative now? :-) Speaking as one who is indeed an amateur (and someone who likes some CCM), how can the average church goer and non-musical person be able to discern music that is more glorifying to God?  I listen to that version of "And Can It Be," and first of all, I don't care for it much because it sounds very unfamiliar to me. It "feels" wrong. And, in my personal opinion, it sounds kind of lame. But that is not a musically knowledgeable-based reason. For example, (and I hope this link works) here is a rewritten version of "Before the Throne of God Above":

    , which I really like (ignore the dubious artwork in the video). In fact, it was the only version of this hymn with which I was even familiar until we sang it in church recently. How can I discern which one is musically superior (because I think the one in the video is pretty!)? Because otherwise, I'm basing my musical preferences on subjective things anyway. (Are you covering this in your class this summer, Pastor Aniol??!) :-)

  12. Dan,
    Thank you for these clarifying points, and I thank you also for your strong stand.  It seems we are not so far removed from one another.  I think there are at least three points to be had in an evaluation of a song's worth for use in worship.
    1. Is it an composition of excellence?  Biblically, we are called to offer our firstfruits as well as a sacrifice of praise (and this out of gratitude for what's been done for us by Christ).  For a skilled and trained musician, this cannot mean a minimalist attempt that can be hastily thrown together in a few minutes.  With my bean-counting, I'm attempting to show that this song does not represent the musical firstfruits of the Christian church.
    2.  Does the musical meaning fit the text?  This is not as readily articulated, but is absolutely essential to the discussion.  Music's two basic modes of communication bioacoustic and associative are often confused and not easily understood.  But the evaluation has to be done by focusing on the works at a bioacoustic level – i.e. evaluating the musical constructs for their intrinsic meaning.  Evaluations can't be left to the associations of each individual.  "It means so-and-so to me" cannot be the means by which we investigate a work of art, though these meanings exist.
    3.  Is is appropriate? (I Corinthians 14:40)
    I would maintain that there is something to be learned about the worth of a song based on an analysis like the above.  Excessive repetition without development, though it may have immediate appeal, simply doesn't wear well, and by its nature speaks regarding the diminished worth of a work.   It's the very reason for the temporalness of pop music.  Do you agree?
    I'm still not sure where you find the ideas of hypermetric interruptions and harmonic prolongations at structural points in this work.  If I understand you correctly, it seems to be this that causes you to label the analysis unfair, yet I can't find these features in this work.  Can you point to where they are?
    Thanks for the sharpening discussion, Dan!

  13. Yeah, Tim- we have different views on a few things but end up at similar positions. Yes, I certainly agree about the diminishing returns of pop music, and repetition being a key factor in that.
    With regards to hypermeter and prolongation- I'm referring to the bridges between stanzas on the YouTube version. I wonder if you were referring just to the printed music or mp3 demo on that other site, which is pretty "plain". The YouTube version is more arranged… That might explain our differences…?

  14. Thanks for the great discussion here, ladies and gents! I think it displays wonderfully the uncomfortable tensions involved in this important topic.
    Dan: I agree wholeheartedly that musical communication is more than a sum of its parts. Thanks for clarifying that point. I have heard all too many arguments against pop music that say, "All syncopation is wrong," or "all anapestic beat is sensual," etc. But actually, that's where I see strength in Tim's analysis. He doesn't say all syncopation or repetition is wrong (in fact, he readily admits that used skillfully, it can be great). But in applying specific tests to this particular setting, he's moving away from the unwise generalizations to a specific example of how these musical elements are used poorly.
    You say that you would discourage the use of this setting because it is written in the "pop/rock" style. But (1) how do you define "pop/rock," and (2) why is that style unusable for Christians? I think the strength in this analysis is that it answers (or begins to answer) both of those questions.
    Having said all that, I'm really honored that you would take the time to comment here. I think your perspective is invaluable and very helpful in my own thinking. Thanks!
    Alice: No, "layman" is not pejorative! :) However, I think the point Tim was making, and the point I would make, is that a "layman" in an field must be willing to listen to the "experts" in that field when making decisions in that field. If I ignored my doctor's advice to refrain from ingesting cyanide because I "like" it, I would be foolish. Similarly, if I were to ignore the analysis of such musical experts as Tim or Dan, again, I would be unwise.
    Having said that, I do believe that musical "laymen" can make wise decisions and right decisions regarding musical communication, and yes, I will be dealing with that this summer in my series!
    Oh, and by the way, I think the tune to "Before the Throne" that you linked to is a good tune. I would use it if it were in our hymnal. I'm not thrilled with the performance style and what it seems to communicate, but the tune itself is strong, IMO.
    All: I think there are really two issues at stake in this discussion: (1) Musical excellence in composition (don't read "complex;" something simple can also be excellent), and (2) What a particular musical form intrinsically communicates. I think Tim's analysis targets primarily the first of these categories, but I think the setting also fails on the second count, which may be what Dan is targeting. I may be wrong, but it seems to me as if Dan is saying analysis targeting the first category is often unhelpful, while Tim is arguing that since God requires that we offer our best sacrifice, such analysis is necessary. Dan, on the other hand, seems to reject the "pop/rock" genre on the basis of the second category, but I'd be interested in knowing how he would articulate the reasons for such a rejection (as asked above).
    Thanks again to all for this very helpful discussion! This is exactly the kind of thing I'd like to nurture on this site!

  15. Good conciliatory points/summary, Scott. I am focusing on the second, for sure, because I find the first hard to nail down. I agree with Makujina, Jones, et al, though, in saying that "attached" meanings are, in fact, just as strong as the "intrinsic" meanings- and I focus more on that domain.
    Again, my calling is more the creative than the speculative (as you've heard me quote Copland as saying!). As far as defining pop/rock, I don't bother even trying in something like this. I firmly maintain that musical style is not containable in a tidy formula; and I doubt that anyone (saved or unsaved, "expert" or "layman") would say that a song like this is in anything other than some rock/pop style.
    That style communicates something (whether intrinsically or by attachment- doesn't matter to me!) that I don't believe glorifies or reflects God properly and accurately- so I don't write, perform, choose, etc, pieces that aim at that style.
    Is this concrete and tidy? No. And I know it makes some uncomfortable. But it's the most honest and non-overstated assessment I can offer about how I make my own choices, and I've found that students are very open to it. Again, though, in the end I prefer to write music not prose. I just get sucked into blog discussions a few times per year. I'd say this fills my quote until, say, September. Back to my writing desk! :-)

  16. Very helpful, Dan. Thanks. It's interesting; I've actually found that most people find the first category easier to grasp/understand than the second. I.e., it's easier for people (in my experience) to understand that a particular piece of music is poorly crafted than to understand it's meaning (whether intrinsic or attached). I've had people say to me over and over, "Yeah, I see that it's poorly composed, but so what?" Then when I try to explain what that communicates, they object. Again, this may be an issue of perspective. And so I find this whole discussion very interesting and enlightening!

  17. I understand what you're saying. For me, it's hard to make the case, objectively, moving from "craft" to "is this objectionable music". A while back, I realized that most of what I blabbered about really was the result of subjectively deciding what music was good or not good, and then deducing from that. It dawned on me that I really had better try to get at the heart of how I made those subjective decisions! The language that I'm using is what I came up with. Perhaps this approach is more helpful for some than others…

  18. Here are a couple more questions. It seems that the generation of people about 10-20 years older than I is the one that "retooled" the church as it were–eliminating hymns, etc. Now there is a younger generation who is attempting to recapture what the church has lost and is taking the wonderful words and theology of hymns and placing them with contemporary-sounding music such as the one you linked to above. The argument (albeit a very pragmatic one) I hear often is, isn't it better that the young people, and really any people, are being exposed to and singing hymns despite the musical style they're couched in? How would you answer that? Also, how do you feel about the many contemporary Christian musicians/groups (such as the one I linked to) singing hymns to their original tunes but with a more pop/rock instrumentation? (I think I know vis a vis your sentence on performance style and what it communicates above, but I'm interested in hearing you elaborate.)
    I do understand your doctor parallel too. I just think there are very few people who go to a "music doctor" (or even know one) to get their professional opinion. I guess what my ultimate point is, is that it's hard for the average layman/non-musical person to approach the issue of music either non-emotionally or for me, non-practically. I gave a Selah CD (the group singing "Before the Throne of God Above"–my absolute favorite CCM group. Love them. Seen them in concert. Planning to again. A beacon, a shining light in the world that is CCM. But it's OK if you don't like them! I'm not offended. Or outraged. Really. I'm not. :-) ) to a friend of mine who goes to a large, very popular church in our town. She was thrilled to discover them because she and her husband had just been discussing how they grew up with hymns, but now in church their children would never be exposed to them. Now they have a new hymn resource as it were. It would be wonderful if everyone had a vast library of King's College choir CDs to listen to and that they played for their children, just as, as an editor, I'd love if everyone kept a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style handy and used it. But…they don't. Sadly, they aren't even aware of it or aware that they need it. So, is it OK to be somewhat satisfied that people are getting hymns in some form at least?

  19. I agree, Scott, that this is a stimulating discussion. I'm grateful to all who are participating and appreciate the challenges that Dan offers. I struggle with maintaining a sense of fairness in the evaluation of this music. I do want to make sure that it's not my tastes that govern my decisions but rather an adherence to the principles found in the Word of God. Even in that realm, in gleaning principles from Scripture, I struggle to ensure I'm not superimposing my understanding on Scripture, but rather, attempting to discover objectively what the text says both explicitly and implicitly. That's why I seek the knowledge of theologians who've written exegetically on Scripture. If an issue contains controversy, I try to read on both sides of the issue.

    To this end, John Makujina has done, I think, a fantastic job of exegeting passages from Scripture to show that music does indeed have properties of objective emotional communication. Dan, I think it's important that we acknowledge this in our dealings with proponents of CCM, who, by and large, are musical relativists, believing music is either neutral, or communicates only personally and subjectively to each individual. It is here that a core part of the argument lies. I'll give you an example: In our church, a man told me that every time he sings "Wonderful Grace of Jesus" the music makes him very sad and he can't finish singing because he's crying. He said this despite the fact that most of us wouldn't have that reaction to that song. The music of "Wonderful Grace" is essentially a jaunty college fight-song and doesn't inherently contain sound referents for sadness, sentiment, or grief. When I asked him more about his reaction, it turns out that the song was sung at both his parents' funerals, and the associated memory was too strong for him. His emotional reaction to this music had nothing to do with the musical constructs inherent in the song itself (tempo, key, modality, meter, rhythms, etc.). His emotional reaction had instead had been impressed upon him by events surrounding his hearing of it. It's that way with all music; we all have associations attached to particular pieces of music – and that's fine. The ballades of Bread give me a warm nostalgic feeling, and remind me of a time when there were fewer cares. But when it comes time to evaluate music for worship, musicians who are trained to understand the sound referents used by composers should be employed to assess the music for its inherent expressive properties. This is the point that Makujina makes so well biblically – from Scipture! – that while both types of communication exist, it is the inherent expressive properties that are primary and must be assessed. To turn over evaluation of the song to everyone's individual associations and reactions to the music is to lead the church into a kind of musical pluralistic chaos, which is where I think we are. This Scriptural principle – that the inherent bioacoustic properties of music are prime – is essential to the argument. That's why I begin with carefully articulating and enumerating the objective sound properties of the song, then move to assessing their bioacoustic expressions, which in the case of this song, was pretty simplistic.

    So, Alice's question is a very good one: "how can the average church goer and non-musical person be able to discern music that is more glorifying to God?" I think Scott's answer is right on, but would add to it that it's not just Scott's answer. It is God's answer to Alice's question. We are shown repeatedly in Scripture that music was in the charge of skilled and trained musicians (I Chronicles 15:22 and many, many other passages). The Lord also clearly points out the great extent of the skill and training required of these musicians before they are permitted to lead in music, and He uses the prophet Nehemiah to scold church leaders when they've moved away from these models (Nehemiah 13:10-11). There are a number of reasons we're far away from that model in today's culture. But no matter why we've moved away, our focus should be to conform ourselves to scripture and to reform the church to move toward, not away from the biblical models, commands, and examples.

    Alice makes another very important point – "I just think there are very few people who go to a “music doctor” (or even know one) to get their professional opinion." Alice is exactly right. I think that among the reasons for this is that our culture sets forth "choice" as a kind of idolatrous ideal. We're Americans, we're entitled to our choice. Seeking advice about musical styles is contrary to us having our choice. Also among the reasons is the relatively weak link we see regarding our musical choices and the consequences of those choices. I would make an argument to the contrary regarding these consequences, but that's for another time. The point has been made by others but is worth repeating: everyone is an elitist when it comes to selecting their neurosurgeon for removal of a brain tumor; the consequences of having a lesser skilled surgeon are too great. In music – (we believe) not so.

    Alice, just to reiterate Scott's answer, I in no way intended the terms amateur and layman to be perjurative. I don't view them as such. They're simply descriptions of a condition of knowledge. They describe me in every area of knowledge except music.
    Well, I've probably gone on too long for one post, so I'll stop here. Scott, thank you so much for this forum for dialogue.


  20. Tim and/or Scott-
    I think it's easy for Makujina, Aniol, et al. to point out the inherent/universal referents for "sadness" or "happiness"- and I agree that they prove that "inherents" do exist. I think it's much harder, though, to nail down how music inherently communicates higher-level emotions (if I can use that word), and therefore it's much harder to prove that rock/pop inherently communicates immorality/sensuality/etc.
    From my perspective as a composer, I simply say, "Look, folks, my whole job is to choose musical gestures, which combine to create a "style", that say what I want to say. And there are certain gestures and/or styles that, whether intrinsically or by "attachment", say things that I don't want to say. On the other hand, rock/pop gestures/styles "say" something that that whole culture does want to say- again, whether intrinsically or by attachment doesn't matter so much- the point is, it's the musical style of choice for a culture that lives life apart from God. I can't take that style and use it, or even "redeem" it, for my purposes. I can't prove that this music inherently communicates sin, but it seems quite obvious to me that by some sort of combination of inherency and "attachment", it is the musical vehicle of choice for life apart from God.
    Let me pose a question here: Earlier (Tim) you mentioned that music "consists of particular elements of sound that can be evaluated for frequency, proportions, ratios, and interactions and resulting expressions". Can you explain more fully about frequency, proportion, ratio, and how you evaluate them?

  21. Dan,
    Thank you for your description of the correlation of this style with a godless culture. It helps me to understand your position much better! I thoroughly agree with your assessment. I think your objections to using pop/rock might come more under the heading of connotation or propriety described by the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 14, which is a very biblically valid objection.

    I agree that it's much more difficult to pin down complex or "higher" emotions. The works of Rachmaninoff come immediately to mind as works where sometimes simultaneous complex expressions of struggle and triumph, for example, might be expressed. I don't pretend to have a formula for evaluating such complexity, but there is certainly a range of emotions one could describe as being fitting of the musical constructs and another range one could say were wrong expressions to attach with those constructs. When Rachmaninoff writes a long, winding, slowly ascending, crescendo-ing, melodic line, and simultaneously couples to it a crisp, marcato, rapid, descending counter-motive, with unfolding at twice the rate, I think there's a case to be had for a complex emotion being expressed based on the intertwining of these two contradictory, but complimentary musical gestures. As a pianist, if I "dial up" one of the lines and "dial down" the other, I can attempt to influence the degree of (for example) triumph vs. the degree of struggle perceived or "felt" by the listener. As another example, nostalgia is also a higher order emotion that might be explained by a happy memory tinged with sadness that the memory is no longer reality. Musically contradictory contrapuntal lines in music can simultaneously express both the sadness and the joy associated with nostalgia, while a wispy thin tone with a pianissimo dynamic can express the idea of the vagueness of memory. Sound in music represents the physical motions that we manifest while experiencing an emotion and because of polyphony it can do this with several motions simultaneously, thus evoking higher order emotions. It's no coincidence that music occurs in "movements," or that "emotion" contains the word "motion," or that we are "moved" by someone's performance. These words show the strong connection between feeling and its physical manifestation. Again, there's no formula, but training in the sound referents and repeated experiences where one is alternately generalizing and discriminating among these various musical gestures brings some level of fluency with the successful expression of these emotions. I will leave to your own sensibilities the manner in which the pervasive sound manifestation in pop/rock that express sensuality. If you'd like a more explicit description, Frank Garlock does an excellent job in his book, "Music in the Balance."

    With regard to the more objective features of frequency, proportion, ratio, balance, symmetry, and the like, I would refer you to a brief essay by Jonathan Edwards entitled, "The Mind," wherein he discusses these qualities as they relate to beauty and excellence from a perspective of biblical aesthetics, including a discussion of music as an example. Edwards (as well as Scott Aniol!) points out that these features in various combinations are universal features of beauty. Scott's new book addresses this very well from a biblical perspective. For musical applications of these principles, I would also suggest reading Lawrence Dreyfus' book, "Bach and the Art of Invention," or Wallace Berry's "Structural Functions in Music." These books provide incredible insights into the workings of master composers and their use of these principles in their work. It's not so much that I evaluate these features in a comparative way composer by composer, work by work, as to simply observe their presence or absence. Great works of art always have these principles present at a variety of levels and throughout their various elements (melody, harmony, texture, meter, rhythms, etc.) – like a flower with beauty in each petal while each petal simultaneously contributes to an overall beauty. Or, take a look at a peacock tail from a variety of angles – its beauty and complex shape taken as a whole, the beauty of a single feather, the beauty of one of its "eyes" on the feather, or the incredible complexity of geometric designs within the eye itself. Google "peacock tail" and click on images to see a few examples. It's stunning. Music exists in many levels like the peacock feather, and it speaks at each level, while also as a whole.

    Before I give the impression that I think all great music must be complex, let me assure you that I realize that great music can also exist in a form of simple beauty – that which Edwards expresses in terms of equality more so than proportion and ratio. But there is a difference between simplicity and simplistic. That's where I think Roley's "And Can It Be?" (as well as the vast majority of pop music) falls short at the level of craftsmanship. It exists only by virtue of excessively repeated rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic cliche patterns, and is therefore minimalistic in compositional effort. It is comprised not of simple beauty, but of simplistic mannered patterns borrowed from a pagan culture. And Dan, for the life of me, I don't see hypermetric organization in its structure, or sophisticated harmonic prolongations at structural points. (I don't hear these things on the YouTube version, either.)

    The analysis was an attempt to demonstrate the unworthiness of this music for corporate worship in three principle ways: 1) inferior compositional craftsmanship, 2) incongruency of musical meaning with the meaning of the text and 3) connotation with a godless culture.

    Dan, is your only objection to pop/rock its connection to the godless culture?

  22. Dan,
    It's really interesting for me to hear from your perspective, as a composer. When you decide on the musical gesture you use, do you not believe yourself to be communicating an idea or emotion that is perceivable by a listener? Do you consider yourself successful if none of your listeners "get" the idea or feeling? How about if they do?
    Secondly, do you think that Exodus 32 speaks to the idea of concrete communication regarding music's ability to express sin?

  23. I'm all about books like Berry and Dreyfus (although I confess to not being familiar with Dreyfus- but it sounds great). If it helps with perspective, I'm reading Roig-Francoli's Post-Tonal book right now for PLEASURE. I revel in all sorts of analysis, and thrive on teaching them to my students. But I have yet to see a descriptive, let alone prescriptive, set of universal, inherent musical criteria for good vs bad. I firmly believe in objective beauty, as I believe in the God who is Beautiful inherently. But I believe those universal objective traits of beauty are difficult to nail down in music, whether analytically or compositionally. (Even Scott's book (which is very well done) establishes that universals exist, but has a hard time applying them to the music debate. A list like Gordon Brunner's, which he quotes, really starts to "stretch" things when it tries to catalog musical gestures, even though it may have some value and is definitely interesting.) I'm open to being convinced otherwise, as any of my students will tell you; but right now I'm still quite leery of attempts to quantify/codify music as if it were a physics formula.
    As a composer, yes, of course, I choose musical gestures that will "say" what I want to "say", musically/emotionally/textually/and in every other way. But I'm always amazed at the variety of meanings/emotions/moods that people infer from my music, often that I didn't intend. But I'll grant that it's within a pretty narrowly defined window (i.e. people don't hear "rebellion" when I meant "repentance").
    I'm not sure I define "success" as a composer solely in terms of whether my listeners "get" exactly what I was after. Milton Babbitt sure didn't…
    The thing about composition that interests me most as it relates to all this, is that it's utterly impossible to quantify, codify, or in any other systematic way, "teach" composition, or "how to create beautiful music". I can teach craft all day, I can delve into Implication-Realization, I can peel back Schichte to reveal Urlinie, I can talk about scale degree tendency and counterpoint….ad nauseaum for my students if I'm not careful! But I can't come up with a prescription for beauty. We can only look to other works that we deem beautiful, and try to "soak in" as much of them as possible.
    Even when I write- some of my pieces come out beautiful, and some…don't! It was said of Josqin that the notes didn't master him; HE was the master of the notes….but few composers really achieve that. Much of the time we're at the mercy of our notes…

  24. Thank you, Dan. Very interesting and informative. In a similar way, while I study and teach interpretation of masterworks all day, musical gestures defy codification and categorization. Yet as you say, there IS a pretty narrow window of range. I'll add that just because there may be a few or even several "right" answers, it doesn't mean that all answers are right. There are still wrong ones. And this is where I think pop/rock is wrong for the Gospel of Christ.

    Sorry to pester, but. . .

    Exodus 32? Moses and Joshua hear idolatrous singing before they see the idolatry.

    And. . .

    Is the stylistic objection the only objection to pop/rock in worship? Or do you believe congruity and craft have a place in the evaluation of music for worship?

    Just interested in your views.

    Babbitt? There's a modernist worldview.

    Are you familiar with Robert Hatten's work on semiology and gesture? He's a marvelous pianist and music theorist at Indiana University who's written quite a bit on this topic.


  25. We've found some pretty common ground, then- good. Agreed that many answers may be plausible, and yet not all are. That's exactly how I teach analysis. In the end, I think you have more confidence in universals/inherents/etc than I do, but our differences have definitely dwindled as we communicate more.
    In the interest of "being sharpened" and not just trying to "sharpen everyone else", I'd like to read that Edwards essay (The Mind) but can't find it online. Scott or Tim can you point me to it or do you have a digital copy?
    Exodus 32: interesting, and definitely ripe for application, but I'm not sure *how* that music expressed idolatry.
    Congruity and craft have a place, no doubt- as evidenced by my compositional choices when setting text, or when writing, say, a church choral anthem and trying to set an example of craft, unity, development of a small number of ideas instead of pastiche, "modesty" as Scott would say, etc…
    Full disclosure: I'm being ornery in invoking Babbitt. His Who Cares If You Listen is of immense help for my students in understanding much 20th century music, but it's not my own aesthetic. I do, in fact, write for audiences, even when writing concert music/art music. I don't, however, put my whole stock in whether an audience "got it" or not. The recent example of Josh Bell's violin playing not being recognized in a subway station, has application even for composers' work, I think. Great art may easily go entirely unnoticed. (Now I'm sounding like a Romantic, eh?)
    Very familiar with Hatten as a giant in the field of semiotics. I've read some of his work. It's fascinating but eventually starts to go over my head, I think.
    Tell me about your studies at IU. You didn't, by any chance, know Forrest Pierce while there, did you? Not sure if you're the same age. IU is consistently turning out a majority of the best composition students in the country, right now, in the estimation of some (myself included).

    PS) We're just starting to "geek out", now- this is fun! :-)

  26. Ok, you guys, your 'geeking out' is very interesting to me and I understand about 25% of the terminology…
    But I want to question the 'ask an expert' response. It seems to me that this is extremely unhelpful pastorally. There must be ways for spiritual discernment to be developed without technical expertise.
    I have taught our people that music, just like any other art, is capable of expressing great beauty as well as great debauchery. Just as their are dirty paintings, there is dirty music. When people approach music (and I am not meaning the words here! the words are a separate art) with the idea of looking for beauty or debauchery or to what degree either is present, they begin to cultivate spiritual discernment.
    For example, the recent mini-scandal over the Hannah Montana pictures are an example of something that wasn't as blatantly dirty as pictures in certain men's magazines might be, but it was sufficiently dirty that people were offended and the individuals involved were backpedaling like mad. The question for people to ask about music is this: is there some music like that? Would such music honour the Lord? (my answers are of course, yes there is and no it wouldn't) And if such music wouldn't honour the Lord, then how can Christians use it?
    I do think your technical discussion adds a great deal of weight to the issues at hand, but the people in the pew must be able to develop discernment in ways they can handle. If it must be left to the musical 'priesthood', they will dismiss your arguments out of hand.
    But don't don't give up the technical side of it. I am learning a bit from your discussion, just wanted to point out the other side of it.
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  27. Don, I really don't go into all of this with the "people in the pew". I simply point out that any composer is using music to say what he/she wants to say, that there are certain styles or idioms that say certain things (regardless of "how" that happens), and that all believers have to make careful, discerning choices about what their music means. Their choices must glorify and reflect the Lord as revealed in Scripture. As far as "geeking out", I'm referring to our  conversation getting away from the whole music debate, and turning to our professional technical/scholarly interests, readings, etc. We college professors don't often get to interact with other people who know what hypermetric disruption is.
    Random fact, not necessarily related: Newsweek, a few issues ago, ridiculed President Bush for telling the pope that his speech was "awesome". Newsweek wrote " 'Awesome'? Come on! You're talking to the POPE, not to Miley Cyrus."
    That made me think- if the world recognizes that we should highly reverence the POPE by not using common vernacular, how much more should believers recognize that Very God of Very God should be highly reverenced? Interesting…
    I've really got to taper these posts off, and get back to writing. I've filled my blog posting quote for the rest of the YEAR!

  28. Rats! Well, Don, you've likely split Dan and me apart again! But you bring up a very good point about the practical application of this discussion. I would be in complete agreement with you that there is musical "pornography." It exists in music that expresses lust, sensuality, rage, and other sinful emotions. I expect that Dan's likely to disagree, but here's where I think that there are definite sound referents that correspond to the physical manifestations of these emotions and therefore communicate, evoke, connote, suggest, express (choose your verb) these sinful behaviors. I don't think you have to be a trained musician to "get" it, either. Makujina does an excellent job of showing how these sound referents are cross-cultural and time-transcendent. It's my guess that some of the same sound referents we hear in the angry sex-laden rock repertoire of today would be similar to those Moses and Joshua heard coming down the mountain into Israelite idolatry.

    I would highy recommend Frank Garlock's book, "Music in the Balance" to answer your question in detail. Garlock has done a very good job of identifying some of the characteristic sound referents of sensuality. Some of these that he mentions are vocal 'scooping' of the melody; intimate, breathy tone; prounounced backbeat, as well as others. Garlock makes sound/body connections for each of these as well as other vocal effects. Scooping of the melody (vocal sliding from pitch to pitch smoothly, including all the pitches in between especially at slow tempi ) Garlock correlates to sensual physical caressing and stroking. Breathy tone (by the way made possible only by virtue of the microphone) simulates physical intimacy or nearness. The constant backbeat evokes the motion of . . . well, I'll encourage you to read the book. Both Makujina and Garlock include scores of quotations of contemporary rock musicians who specifically spell out the deliberate sexual content of the sound (not the lyrics – the sound!) in rock music. These are the same sounds we are imitating and importing without discernment in Christ's church. I think it was Makujina who said that to deny these sound/body connections, one has to be desensitized to them by virtue of their constant appearance in our culture. It's telling that Christians deny the correlation of the sound to sensuality that the originators of the sound – the rock musicians – brag about.

    Don, I would encourage you not to too easily dismiss the biblical recommendation to appoint knowledgeable, spiritually mature, skilled and trained musicians. Far from being a musical "priesthood," this is the Bible's remedy for this problem we face, and we must trust the Lord's ways of doing things. People of course need education in this area, but the Lord is very specific in saying that those appointed to lead music were appointed and paid because of their skill and training. They performed their duties "according to the regulations laid down for them," by the church leadership, and they were "about their duties day and night." (I do realize that these Levitical musical appointments were made in the context of the sacrificial worship system, but there are musical principles in effect that were not necessarily abrogated by Christ's sacrifice.)

    Dan, I appreciate your time on this blog to challenge the analysis and to contribute as a skilled and trained composer! My own time commitment on this site comes because it's the end of the semester, and I just finished my last concerto of the season last Saturday night. I'm splurging before getting on with next season's repertoire. I was at Indiana from 82-86 getting my MM and DM. My full disclosure: I'm 47. I didn't know Pierce, but was a colleague for many years here at Penn State with Robert Hatten until he got the gig at IU.


  29. Tim-
    Never fear. It's ok! I've maintained that there's some reason why the rock idiom is the "vehicle of choice"; the bio-acoustic model, and all the quotes from the rock composers, help explain it. See? We can still agree. I'm hesitant of Garlockian reductionism since many of those elements can be found in art music and folk music that we embrace- and students are quick to point those things out. My best answer to those students is that music is more than the sum of its parts; it seems to me that it's more the style as a whole that communicates the sensuality- by some combination of bio-acoustic inherency in those gestures (granted!) and culturally attached meaning (which is just as strong as any inherent meanings). We've already been through all that, I think. You can focus on the gestures, and I can focus on the overall style, and together we'll lick the platter clean.
    Colleague with Hatten? I bet that was stimulating!
    Part of my studies at KU were with Scott Murphy; one of his myriad of specialties is semiotics, and he referred to Hatten in those contexts and others.
    Realized I didn't really ever answer about hypermeter and prolongation in the YouTube version- I was referring, simply, (if I remember correctly, now) to 2-bar interludes in the midst of 4-bar phrase periodicity, and a slowing of harmonic rhythm in those interludes as well. No biggie. I'm not claiming that this is "sophisticated" in the big scheme of things- but popular music studies scholars would probably give it some discussion (you know theorists- we can make a mountain out of any little molehill), and it seemed more sophisticated than the other elements which you amply derided. That's all.
    What concerto did you just do?

  30. Hi guys

    First, I am not being critical of technospeak as such. I think that the layperson should have some awareness that there is more to the argument than he cares to know!

    But I do have two critiques. 1. Those who know the technospeak need to be able to communicate serious arguments into common lingo. 2. The notion that 'experts' are necessary is discouraging to the non-experts.

    On the second one, I recall a situation many years ago when we had an evangelist in to the church in Shelby NC where I was a youth pastor. The evangelist was good, but he had this habit of saying, "you can't see it in the English, but in the Greek it's there." One of my young guys said to me afterwards, "I guess I'll just have to learn Greek if I want to understand the Bible."

    Anyway, you probably know this already…

    I'm just offering cautions, I think it is necessary for experts to gain expertise and to be able to think on these levels. I just think it is important to be able to translate it to the level of the common man. In fact, in other contexts, I have said that if the experts can't communicate their ideas in ways the common man can understand, then they don't understand their subject well enough. That doesn't mean that the common man needs to know and understand everything the expert is saying! But the expert needs to know how to communicate it well enough for discernment to grow on the individual level.

    Enough of that, though. Carry on, I am finding it interesting, even though I don't understand it all.


    And on a matter completely unrelated for Scott:

    Your new template is really driving me nuts [I know, short trip] in trying to compose comments. Each paragraph is run together unless you do a double return, but even that seems not to work all the time…

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  31. Honestly, though, Tim… Scott Roley's "And Can It Be" is the low-hanging fruit on the knock-Indelible-Grace's-music tree. There are ones much higher up.

    It was funny… I saw the article title and thought "here we go again… Elitists bashing acceptable music…" But then I listened to it and thought "Wow. This really is a bit painful." As a literature person, I'm keenly aware of when a songwriter isn't trying to craft music around existing words but is trying to shoehorn them into a musical line. Ack!

    I would be interested, though, in some analyses of other Indelible Grace pieces that you would find commendable. It may take some digging around, but I've found a few that I find genuinely helpful (Matthew Perryman Jones' remake of "Abide With Me" being one).

  32. Don – I agree.  It does need to be translatable to the layman.  Does the peacock analogy help in understanding that all facets (i.e. rhythm, melody, harmony, texture, etc.) of great music have hierarchies built into their structure?  That's what's being talked about with the term hypermeter – a rhythmic organization that is a level above the time signature you see at the beginning of each piece where each measure (or phrase!) is placed into an organizational structure that's a level or two higher than the meter.
    Jeff, I disagree.  I dug around in that stuff for quite some time (at the request of my session!) looking for something of worth.  "And Can It Be?" is pretty typical of the tunes that are being written.  If I'm looking for jewels, there are better piles to look through.

  33. Sorry I haven't been as active here as I would have liked. While you professors are just finishing a semester, I'm gearing up for a pastor's conference, some traveling, speaking at a music camp, etc. etc. etc.! :)

    First to Don: sorry about the comment mess. I was trying out a rich text editor plugin, but I noticed the same problem. So I've disabled it.

    The only thing I'll say with regard to Tim and Dan's discussion is that I don't believe that higher emotions can be expressed with specificity in music; only primary emotions. And I also am a bit wary of a reductionist approach to analyzing these things because like Dan said, you can find all of them in legitimate art music (anapestic beat, for instance). I try to focus on what the whole package is saying, and I think Tim did a good job in this analysis.

    Alice: I will certainly deal with some of this in my series this summer, but I'll make a few comments now.

    First, Many doctrinally-focused churches have thankfully come to the conclusion that an entertainment philosophy of worship is unbiblical. They want to be God-focused; they want to be doctrine-centered. So they are writing and producing and performing a whole new body of Christian music that is God-focused and rich in doctrinal content.

    The problem is, though, that they have been influenced over the past 30 years by the very philosophy that they now repudiate. They have been influenced to believe that culture is relative and music is neutral, and so as long as the textual content is correct, it matters not what forms of music we use. So now we have a lot of good people producing music that has excellent lyrics but pop forms of music. They fail to recognize that although they reject the entertainment philosophy, their thinking has nonetheless been significantly affected by that philosophy.

    The fact is that culture and music are not neutral. Musical forms always communicate. Musical form is like the tone of voice in which you say something. If I told Becky I loved her with a sarcastic tone, the medium would contradict the message.

    In the same way, while I am happy to see a refocus on rich, doctrinal texts, I'm afraid that the pop forms in which they are set actually contradict and do harm to the textual content. As has been rehearsed in this comment thread, no on in the secular world denies what pop music expresses – sex, violence, sensuality, rebellion, etc. So even when a good text and a good tune are arranged using pop techniques, those kinds of things (some more than others, of course) are naturally communicated.

    Is there an exact science to making these kinds of determinations? No. But I agree with Tim that a good place to start is to compare how the music sounds with how people naturally express certain emotions or states of being.

    I'll give you an example from the "Before th Throne" clip you linked to, because here we have a great text and a good tune, and I'll only be referring to the performance style. With all due respect to your preferences and the person performing, and not at all calling motives into question, the "breathy" singing style in that clip sounds like "pillow talk." That's an objective assessment. Would you want a woman talking to or singing like that to your husband? It reminds me of the infamous "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" sung by Marilyn Monroe to JFK. There was certainly nothing objectionable about the text or the tune, but the way Ms. Monroe sang the song gave no one doubt as to what she intended by it. You can listen to it here:

    Why does such a singing style express these kinds of sensual moods? It is because that is how humans naturally express intimacy and sexuality. Appropriate for the marriage bed? Of course. For any other setting, especially singing about grand doctrines such as imputation and justification? I don't think so.

    And the problem is that being around music is like being around other people. "Bad company corrupts good morals." I don't like hanging around people who are grumpy or angry or moody or violent, because someone else's emotional state naturally rubs off on other people. Likewise, "hanging around" music that naturally expresses those same kinds of things rubs off. There's good reason why people in our society today are depressed, violent, sensual, etc. Depravity to be sure, but pop music doesn't help any.

    Please don't take any of this as confrontational. These are subjects that definitely take time to work through, and hopefully the series in our church this summer will help some here. :)

  34. Thank you, Scott, for an excellent summary of the thread. I want to say that I do understand the problem of reductionism. The context in which a musical gesture is set certainly affects its expression. To continue with your analagy, a sarcastic tone in one setting with a particular propositional content may be intended and rightly understood as humor. Sarcasm in another setting with a different propositional content may be intended and rightly understood as hostility. Clever people may use sarcasm in a deliberately ambiguous way, leaving the hearer cruelly uncertain of what was intended. I think musical gestures function in a very similar way.

    Nevertheless, I find much truth that transcends style in Garlock's short list. Since I've read that book, I've been on the watch for vocal slides that don't communicate some sort of sensual expression. (My daughter is an opera singer, and I'm listening to a lot of opera these days.) My informal survey shows that the vocal slide gesture is quite often used in operatic contexts of art music with the same or similar sensual effect. Yet in another context a vocal slide could be heard as grief – wailing or lament.

    So I understand the need to be careful with reductionism because of context. Yet there are generalizations that are useful given an if/then setting. These areas get a little grayer as textless instrumental music is written to mimic various types of vocal music. That's why I think a broad range of knowledge, the kind that comes from years of study, is a prudent prerequisite for those placed in musical leadership positions in the church. Placing untrained or unskilled persons in positions of musical leadership in the church can result in some divisive situations – situations that can be further complicated by relationships and personalities to the extent that the real problem becomes hidden under a mound of subsequent secondary problems.


  35. Thanks, Pastor Aniol. I don't take any of it as confrontational at all. I definitely take your point about being influenced by the last 30 years of pop music because I see that in myself. See, I never even heard that sort of tone in "Before the Throne." Then again, I have had zero filter basically on the music I listen to until the last few years. Now I have been in the process of "performing surgery" on what I listen to. (Which is not to say I'll be excising Selah yet from my "canon" because they were what I was replacing bad stuff with!) Thanks for conversing on this forum. I'm looking forward to the music series this summer!

  36. Dan,

    If you'll indulge me one more time, I've been thinking this week about our conversation. Specifically, I noticed that while we agree that a musical composition has a right range of interpretation of expression as well as a wrong range, you tend to argue a broader range of right interpretations than I am willing to admit. You use words like "many" and I use words like "a very few."

    I wonder about this. Could your tendency toward broadness and my tendency toward narrowness be the result of our specific specialties within the field of music?

    You are a composer. If you set about to compose a work that communicates majesty, I imagine that you see an enormous array of possibilities for the expression of that affect. Key, tempo, texture, harmony, rhythm . . . all these musical elements and more are at your disposal to combine in some new way to communicate the affect you intend. It's an open-ended process. For the composer, to limit the range of expression to a specific combination of elements would be to stifle creativity.

    I am an interpreter/performer. I deal with the set limitations that the composer has given me, usually without the benefit of a specific verbal instruction sheet or personal communication with the composer. I have to look at the symbols as they exist on the page, decipher and interpret them, and narrow down the range of emotional expressions into a very few reasonable possibilities that will work given the musical elements at hand. For the interpreter, to broaden the range of expression of a given set of musical parameters is to risk charges of eccentricity at best and ignorance of style at worst.

    Just a theory. If you have a minute, I'd be interested in your thoughts.


  37. I'm not solely a composer; I have a master's in piano performance, so I've done my share of interpretation and performing. :-)

    I freely admit that my thoughts on these things changed a lot partly when I turned more to composing, and mostly when I started thinking about the nature of composition pedagogy. So that lines up with your hypothesis, and I think there's something to it.

    On the other hand, even interpretation, in my view, is not so cut and dry either. What are we to make of the vast range of tempi in Bach WTC or Invention performances, or the variety of expression markings in various editions in which the editor assigned his/her own idea to the piece?
    (Perhaps that's less so with Classical, and especially Romantic musics, though. Yet even that's ironic since the Baroque was the era of rhetorical symbols and the doctrine of the affections…:-))


  38. Dan,

    Hmm. Interesting. I suppose I would say of the vast range of performance practice in the WTC, etc., that many of them are incorrect – at least in the eyes of Bach. Not that we can always (or ever) know what Bach would have done, obviously, but that were he to hear some of these eccentric interpretative choices, he might likely have a cow. I think of the composer as the source and to the extent that he/she is the source, then there is a "more right" way in the eyes of that source.

    I think that's part of the reason for the continued development we see in notation (slurring, tempo marks, dynamics, etc.). The composers, after hearing what performers did to their music, exerted more and more control in absentia – to the absurd point of the serialistic control of every element in Webern, etc. (Not that all composers participated in that level of control, but it's traceable as a movement.)

    I agree that interpretation is not so cut and dry, but part of the fun of interpreting is getting as close as possible to the composer's intention. I may be just as wrong in my choice of tempi, articulation, and dynamics as another, but that doesn't mean that Bach didn't have an ideal in mind for these elements – all toward the goal of a particular expression.

    Thanks for the exchange!


  39. *Chuckling at the use of the word "absurd"*

    ….and wondering if I'm incorrect in my thinking that Webern never actually experimented with true total serialism… Anyway…

    I see where you're coming from. We're almost opening a whole other can of worms now… We can agree that performer and composer do, indeed, have different approaches to music that may, in fact, influence how they frame their views on today's church music scene.

  40. Hi guys…

    To interject again, could an analogy of judicial philosophy as "strict constitutionalists" vs. a more fluid approach to making constitutional judgements describe this last little exchange?

    in other words, to interpret this from as a non-musician, it sounds like one approach is to get as close to authorial intent as possible, whereas the opposite extreme is 'anything goes'. And probably there is a spectrum here, each of you being on different spots on the spectrum to some extent.

    Am I close, or way out in left field?

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  41. Don,

    I think there is some truth to you analogy, but I personally think there's an additional level, because we're dealing also with intrinsic meaning and associative meaning, which may not relate specifically to authorial intent. Of course, a good composer will intend to express what the music intrinsically expresses, but usually his intent will be more specific than what music can express (as discussed above).

    In other words, I believe that at its most basic level, music expresses primary emotion intrinsically, not based on the composer's feelings or intent, although, like I said, they are often connected (especially with a good composer). Music expresses, as Susan Langer describes it, "ideas of feeling." Stephen Davies argues that it expresses these ideas by mimicking physical expressions of emotion aurally. All of this is separate from, but related to, authorial intent.

    It's different from written language — that meaning is unmistakably connected to (1) the culturally derived meaning of words and (2) authorial intent. Music is different; it's more like body language than spoken/written language. It's the language of all humanity, not just one given culture or people group.

  42. Correct. As I said in my last post, we were starting to open a whole other can of worms. :-)
    As a composer, I sometimes have something very specific that I "fuss about" when I'm rehearsing with a group; at other times, interpretations that vary from my original conception actually pique my interest, and I enjoy the variety of interpretations that occur. Of course, this may reveal more about me as a composer-musician, than about the nature of music itself. :-)


  43. Story: I give workshops for piano teachers on beauty and excellence in the music we teach. As a part of the workshop, I conduct a little unscientific experiment. I play some recorded samples of music for which the audience is supposed to determine the emotion or feeling being communicated by the composer. They're given notecards and asked to write down their answers silently to avoid groupthink. I use two types of music: sound tracks from movies where a symphonic excerpt is attached to a particular scene of romance, fear, nostalgia, etc. and obviously designed to support the director's emotional intention for the scene. The second excerpt is from a great symphony by a master composer where there is no program per se.

    Inevitably, the audience always gets the movie music (always with a high degree of accuracy and sometimes as high 100%). There are usually a few cards are returned with exactly the same two or three words of emotional description on them. I finish by showing them the clip from the movie, affirming their collective choice.

    The symphonic excerpt, on the other hand, has a wider degree of variability in response. Most of the audience still "gets" the emotion, but there's more variety and sometimes, interestingly, there appear polar opposite answers.

    Why is this? I think there are two possible reasons. The first is that people bring their own associations to music listening and since each person is likely to have different associations with a work or a style, the emotional responses offered by individuals are different. Case closed.

    But this reason doesn't account for how the same crowd of people hear the movie music in such an emotionally consistent manner.

    The second possible reason is my own speculation/theory that comes from a comparison of the sound constructs in the music itself. The movie music is often expressively unidimensional in the composer's choice of contrapuntal ideas – in other words, all elements of the music from the various musical lines in the texture are usually pointing to the same bioacoustically explainable emotional affect. Only rarely is this movie music emotionally complex or sophisticated. That's because its purpose is to undergird and heighten the expressive intention of the dialogue and image of the scene. Movie directors don't hire composers who can't successfully compose a particular emotional expression.

    The symphonic music, on the other hand, is frequently comprised of contrapuntal strands and motives that are of a wider array of simultaneous bioacoustic expressions – even contradictory expressions. When taken as a whole, I believe these bioacoustically varied motives are capable of pretty specifically communicating higher level emotions, and quite often, people who listen to the work in a "whole" fashion get the complex emotion. But at the same time, other folks tend to listen more specifically (say to the smoothly and slowly descending French Horn line instead of the simultaneously sounding rapidly ascending violins). When these "specific-listeners" listen to expressively different or contradictory contrapuntal lines, I think it's very reasonable for them to return the little note-cards that say they think that the music is communicating different or even opposite expressions.

    I do agree with Scot that music is the language of all humanity, not just a particular people group or of a particular time. It's my opinion that's because of music's bioacoustic expressive properties. I think we have to search for other reasons that music sometimes has varied emotional effects on people. The assistant pastor at my previous church told me that music is neutral and that it can mean anything to anybody at anytime. Therefore, he concluded, we can use any kind of music in the church to worship God. This is to give music the expressive abilities of chaos. If I were a composer trying to set a text and I believed as aesthetic postmoderns do that I have no control over how the music I will write will communicate the expression of this text, I think I'd have to give up!

    Happy Lord's Day!

  44. "The Mind" by Jonathan Edwards is neither an essay nor a book. It is few observations and "chapter titles" he jotted down in a personal notebook beginning (probably) in 1723 with the ultimate goal of publishing a monograph on the subject.

    You may find a copy in volume 6 of the Yale Works of Jonathan Edwards (edited by Wallace Anderson). Snippets may also be found in <a href=",M1&quot; rel="nofollow">"Appendix H" in volume 1 of Sereno Dwight's Works of President Edwards, beginning with page 664, as well as <a href=",M1&quot; rel="nofollow">pg 34-39.

  45. Tim,

    I've found both your research and the comments it generated, very thought-provoking. Perhaps you've commented on this already, but I wonder if you have ever taken the time to do an analysis of the traditional melody that I find so wonderful? How would it fare?

    Keep up the work!

  46. Thank you, Jim. This actually came up on Scott's previous website and there was a fairly lengthy discussion about the traditional tune's strengths and weakness. I don't know if Scott still has access to that and would care to re-post?

  47. Gentlemen, I am the brother of the "composer" who you have rudely skewered in these posts. Relax, I'm not here to throw stones, or to pick up the ones that you have tossed. I respect your position and your expertise, but my guess is that you have no idea who Scott Roley is and how the Lord has used his music, particularly the very simple, "painful" tune that he put to those glorious words. No argument from me that it is not "great art".

    Feel free to contact him. He is the Senior Pastor at Christ Community a PCA church in Franklin, Tennessee. More than likely you will have a great laugh with him when he agrees with everything you accuse him of, simply because as a young youth pastor he was frustrated that his kids would not sing the great hymns. He made it very simple and repetitive, and guess what? The kids began to learn the lyric, which in my humble opinion, is far more important than the musical vehicle.

    By the way, "And Can It Be" is my favorite hymn. I like it the way I learned it. I can't sing it worth beans, however, because for most of us it is a difficult song to sing, and I am a worship leader. But I understand why my brother wrote the tune in the first place. It was not to make a buck, as some of your swipes at CCM imply, it was to shine the Light of Christ in some dark places, that Bach or Watts was not going to penetrate. It is a 4 chord and a cloud of dust tune, no doubt, but just because someone is critical of it's compositional nature does not mean that God is not glorified.

    I love the line from "Jeff" that the Scott Roley version of "And Can It Be" is the "low-hanging fruit on the knock-Indelible-Grace’s-music tree." I am certain that my brother would agree that it was intended to be easy pickins for the kids he was attempting to introduce to the Savior.

    Remember, brothers, the art of criticism is a simple gift, but to get out there and allow the Lord to create through you, now that is something special. Your session wants new music that truly glorifies God (no doubt from their perspective), ask the Lord to create the new song in your hearts to share with your respective congregations. And perhaps to demonstrate affection for Christ not religion.

    God bless you all in what He has called you to.

  48. Dear Jeff (R.),

    Thank you for writing on behalf of your brother. It helps me to keep in mind that the folks with whom I am disagreeing are Christian brothers and sisters. You are completely right when you say that it is easy to criticize. I'm in the process of writing a second article on what makes a great hymn great from a musical perspective, and it's a much easier go to point out flaws.

    Having said that, I would nevertheless urge your brother, and all those who would promote the use of this music in the worship of our Lord, to use exceeding caution. I appreciate and believe your brother's well intentioned efforts as a young pastor to get the kids to sing the lyrics and get to know the truths of great hymns. I would simply point out that the Bible's model for how to do this in the church is not to appoint a youth pastor, but to appoint one who is skilled and trained in singing. The mistake I believe your brother made (enabled and encouraged by the church) is to import a cultural medium and musical form into the church which is inextricably linked with unbiblical sex, sensuality, rebellion against authority, following your own heart, and drugs. The purveyors of rock and pop music universally tout these features and rightly link the musical form with this message. Unwittingly your brother may have introduced this form to some children who had otherwise been protected from it by conservative parents; in other cases where it is used the church validates the medium in the eyes of less well-protected children who well know its cultural context. At the very least, when the church employs and thus validates this music, it opens for our children a gate to a culture which the Bible repudiates. The gate it opens is one of the emotions – a dangerous gate that Scott so rightly points out sets the course of the will.

    As I mentioned earlier, I believe you when you declare your brother's motivations and also when you state that his purpose was not to make a buck. My comment regarding the commercial role of this song is limited to its extreme repetitiveness (which is a feature of the pop music it imitates for the express and articulated purpose of selling the song), and the remarks made by the performers on the YouTube video, who were hawking CDs immediately before their performance of it.

    Regarding your comment about Bach and Watts, I would remind you that it's not the biblical function of music to reach the lost – music is not a means of grace in the reformed faith. When we seek to elevate music to a function that is not its rightful biblical role, we risk making profound mistakes in its use.

    It is not my intention to criticize a young youth pastor in his efforts on behalf of Christ. I am calling for the church to reform its musical practices in worship to the examples, models, and commands we see in scripture and in so doing, rightly guide those who are charged with pastoring the Lord's sheep.

    Thank you for writing, Jeff.


  49. Jeff,

    Thank you so much for visiting and commenting.

    This is such a difficult issue because inevitably people are hurt by this kind of analysis. Please be assured, as Tim mentioned, that the intention here was not in any way to attack persons, motives, or character. Our goal simply was to analyze the spiritual worth of this kind of musical setting as objectively as possible.

    Regarding teaching children good texts. I admire that goal, but I have two problems with using this method, one of which Tim already mentioned:

    1. The music itself contradicts the message and expresses messages that I would not want any Christian to imbibe, let alone children. Tim has expressed reasons for this.

    2. But the other problem is this: children like what they know. Teach them good texts with good, conservative tunes, and eventually they will like it. We do not need to give them silly music in order for them to like good texts, nor do we need to give them worldly, fleshly music to get them to like good texts.

    I have proved this experientially. When I came to my current church 5 years ago, the children in our church knew absolutely no hymns. So, i took over the Wednesday evening children's program, removed all of the "silly" Christian songs they were singing, and began to teach them hymns. At first they hated it. At first the parents hated it. But after systematically and enthusiastically teaching them how to use a hymnal and about a hymn a month, the children in our church now LOVE to sing great texts with great tunes. Ask them what they're favor songs are, and they will say, "Holy, Holy, Holy," or "I Sing the Mighty Power of God," or some other wonderful text/tune combination.

    As adults, I firmly believe that it is our responsibility to give children, not what they might immediately like, but what is good. And, because they are children, they will learn to like it.

  50. Please post music and lyrics you have composed and photos of any other art you have created. Perhaps Scott Roley, my pastor, and Kevin Twit, my friend, could benefit from your superior skill and avoid such shallowness in the future (sarcasm intended). Plus, it would give us all the opportunity to critique your work.

  51. Dear Steve,

    Thank you for writing. I appreciate the passion in your response. However, if you read my bio, you'll see that I am neither a composer nor a poet, nor do I produce art that is visible in photographs. Instead, I am a performing musician with training in the interpretation of the scores left by composers for the purpose of executing them. This is what I've done in the analysis above. Audiences and critics regularly critique my work; I would invite you to any concerts I give to do so yourself. Criticism is the necessary plight of every one who participates in the arts.

    I understand your obvious offense, but the setting of text to a musical composition is a craft that requires skill and training, as I've tried to demonstrate. You would be unlikely to want me to build a set of shelves for the foyer of your church (they would be unstable, unattractive, and neither straight nor level) for the same reason: that task requires skill and training. You'd certainly not want me working on your car, or operating on your gall bladder. The corporate worship of our Lord is the most important thing we do on this earth. Our efforts as a church toward that worship should reflect this fact out of gratitude for what's been done for us. Additionally, there are numerous accounts in Scripture of the skill and training required of the musicians who served in the temple.

    Please give these considerations serious thought, study, and prayer.

    Thank you again, Steve, for your post.



  52. Alexander Pope said (400 years ago) that the artist and critic are in a symbiotic relationship. Both have gifts the other does not: the gift of composition is different from the gift of critiquing. Both need each other because the poet (or musician) isn't always aware of what makes his work successful or unsuccessful (as art, not as commercialism). He may often get into ruts or take unhelpful directions and the critic can help guide him. The poet needs humility to accept criticism as a favor rather than an attack.

    The critic needs the poet because, well, the critic can't write what the poet does. The poet supplies grist for the critic's mill. The composer's output is the performer's food. The artist's product gives joy and instruction to people. The critic isn't really a joy for anyone, and helps only a few composers. So he needs humility to accept that his critique has a narrow audience. He must remember that critiquing is the less helpful gift.

    So thankfully embrace critiques, all ye composers. And revere the poet, all ye critics.

  53. Well said, Jeff. To put pen to paper in the creation of music is an enormous responsibility, one which I have thus far and for the foreseeable future declined. I will gladly receive the composer's instructions for the art of rendering, but do not relish the role of critic.

    Many in the CCM industry would claim immunity from criticism, claiming instead that as long as the heart of the worker is sincere, the work is good. But this is not what scripture teaches. Scripture teaches about a combination of the bestowing of gifts, seeking of training, development of skills, hard work, and discernment of excellence – all for the glory of God.


  54. Tim,

    My response will not change your beliefs, however Jesus became incarnate, took on flesh and blood became, lived as part of the world he made and is remaking. ALL music is God's. rock and roll, hip-hop, hymns etc. Music is amoral and can be used for good and bad. It is the heart that God anoints. Scott's Music though simple is powerful and has been used to deepen my faith. Your perspective drives away a lot of people from God. Lose the religion and get real

  55. Dear Ken,

    Thanks for your response.

    Do you believe the singing of the Israelites as Joshua and Moses were coming down the mountain belonged to God, or to sinful man? (Ex. 32:15-18) Scripture shows that the sound of the Israelites' singing was the first sign Moses and Joshua had that they were in rebellion against God. Note that it was the sound of their singing, not the words of their songs.

    How about the song of the prostitute in Isaiah – did that song belong to God?

    Do all the arts belong to God or just music? Does oil painting belong to God? Does photography belong to God? How about literature?

    Or are these things corruptible by sinful man?

    Your mistake Ken, is akin to a Pelagian notion that since music is a gift from God it is therefore incorruptible – that it has escaped the effects of the Fall. Scripture shows quite the opposite. Scripture demonstrates repeatedly that music is a language that communicates emotion. The physical laws of the universe that form sound – frequency, waveform, duration, and amplitude – these laws are from God. But what we do with those raw elements is a creation of man and therefore subject to the effects of sin.

    Christ's incarnation doesn't make music immune from the effects of sin, nor does God's 'anointing of the heart.' Christ saves people, not music, and even those people that are saved are still subject to the effects of their previous sinful nature. All human activity is tainted by sin. Music is a language that communicates emotion. Music that aurally communicates rebellion, sensuality, rage, and lust is not God's. These emotions are not emotions for God's people, and therefore, the music that depicts or evokes them is not God's music. Your approach, Ken, elevates music to an inerrant status, free from the biblical command for us to discern what is excellent, pure, lovely, etc. Understanding music as you do requires no discernment – since it is all from God, it is free from critique.

    My beliefs are based on the explicit and implicit teachings of Scripture and musical facts, Ken. While I'll readily admit my understanding of these things may be wrong, for my beliefs to be changed, you'll have to show me how they're wrong from Scripture and/or with musical facts. Your personal experience notwithstanding, music is not a God-promised means of grace. Depending on music to bring people to God (as you seem to imply, since according to you, my perspective regarding music drives people away from God) is a dangerous and unbiblical elevation of music. As often as not, a dependence such as this can be demonstrably influential when tracing a church's route to apostasy.

    It would grieve me deeply if my perspective were driving people away from God. I don't think it does; I pray that it doesn't. It may drive away people whose primary interest is in pop/rock music, but not God. While I pray that He will use me as His instrument, and I believe I will be held responsible for my Christian witness, I believe God will save whom He will save according to His own good pleasure, with or without me.

    Sorry, Ken. I can't 'lose my religion.' And that's about as real as I get.


  56. I probably should leave Ken to defend himself, but I just wanted to point out a few things.

    Israel's song and the prostitute's song sounded wicked to people in that culture. If we heard those songs—even obviously not knowing the words—we might not make the connection that they are evil songs. And if the Israelites heard a lot of our music today, they might not make a connection that some of these songs are evil and some good. Just look at the sea change in what was considered acceptable classical music between the 18th and 19th centuries.

    What I'm getting at is that when Ken says all music belongs to God, I think he's right. Music may be corrupted by man, but by that I mean (and I hope Ken would agree) that man corrupts himself with his connection to it. He may make music not tell the truth about God, in some sense, but that meaning (and the listener's understanding of it) will be culturally understood. It's not a universal. So there is a sense in which music is not corruptible. I get this from both Christ and Paul's statements that nothing is unclean in itself. There is nothing which you can come into contact with which will automatically communicate sin. When someone understands something to be unclean and participates anyway, that is when it is sin. Because they are no longer participating through faith. Whatever is not of FAITH is sin, not whatever my brother thinks is beyond the pale is sin.

    I think a critical point in your argument is that you think that you can attain music that is free from the corrupting effects of sin. But, in agreement with your attack on Pelagius, I would point out that that is impossible. We all sin in many ways and we sin in everything we do. That's why the cross is so important. It frees us to keep being God's sinful child struggling to grow into godliness, knowing the whole time that all our efforts are still "falling short." But we cling to Christ's righteousness and say "I'm totally unworthy and yet totally loved." Our best traditional hymns on Sunday morning are not free from sin. It's a mistake to say that since everything in the universe fell in Adam, therefore that gives us ground to judge between the sinlessness of this piece versus the evil of that piece. It's denying that everything fell and remains fallen, awaiting the adoption of sons. Every Christian artist (of whatever medium) submits his work to God—hopefully in faith—knowing that, at the end of the day, it's a wreck of both holy and prideful aspirations, fraught with shoddy craftsmanship, laziness, ignorance, and outright distrust of God. Yet God chooses to use even those things. We all stand before Him in His righteousness and by His grace alone.

    I posted an argument about music a while back on my blog: I went over some of these issues on there (specifically, my cousin Will expanded well on my argument in the comments section at the bottom).

  57. Tim,
    I'm about as ignorant as they come about the technical aspects of music. I guess you could call me a 'Joe the Plumber' of music. But your reply had a few points that just didn't seem to sit right. I agree that music can produce emotion, but does that really make it moral? Is pizza moral? Because I get a bit emotional when a hot pizza is set before me at dinner. But even then, the emotion is altered by my own demeanor and surroundings. For example, if I were stuffed with a nice steak and someone offered me pizza, my emotional response would be far different than if I hadn't eaten all day and was offered a cold piece of pepperoni pie. Does that make sense to you? Isn't it a reality that the experiences, associations and surroundings impact the emotion one feels when a song is performed? And please don't go back into the diatribe that pop/rock is synonymous with sex, drugs and rebellion. It certainly can be. But what person with any kind of a brain could listen to the message of a Lecrae song and think that he is encouraging godless rebellion, illicit sex and drug use? Perhaps my lack of education has allowed my head to stay in the real world and not off in the intellectual mire that our atheist friends are so happy to wallow in. Don't misunderstand, intelligence is wonderful as long as it doesn't disconnect you from reality.
    As far as the scriptural references are concerned, it would make sense that they would hear the noise first. But notice that Joshua thought there was a battle. Moses corrected him by saying that it is not a cry of victory or defeat, but of signing. (It seems the sounds was fairly distinct, but not yet condemned in any way.) It was not until he saw the calf and the worshipping of it that his anger burned hot. This is an overused passage to support an increasingly outdated belief.
    And for the record, I personally do not believe that all music is God's and I don't think that was the point Ken was making. I do believe that all music can be God's, but it has so much more involved with it than just the music. Maybe you have a bit of tunnel vision, I don't know. It just seems that such a simple thing is being made way too complicated by people with an agenda. And I don't doubt anyone's sincerity in the matter.
    One last point. Obviously we want to stay scriptural with our worship. So why the harsh attitude toward emotion? Can you read the Psalms and deny the emotion or physical expression? When was the last time one of the 16th century hymns sung in your or Scott's church moved someone to bow, dance, clap, shout or raise their hands in worship? Is that not the precedent set forth in the Scriptures? I think if you want to stay true to the Scriptures, there should be a major paradigm shift going on. But that would no doubt take you out of a comfort zone. (Okay, I made some assumptions in that last statement. I apologize if I was off, but it seemed safe. :) )
    Just some thoughts.


  58. The issue, Michael, is that music is a form of communication, and any time a human communicates, it is either moral or immoral.

  59. Moral because it was the truth or immoral because I wrote with disdain? The point is that communication cannot be judged moral or immoral on one aspect alone – such as style. The arrangements of notes does not necessarily communicate as clearly as lyrics, surroundings, motivations (if known) all combined. So if you take a style that is at worst questionable and combine it with theologically sound lyrics, modestly dressed artists, passionate worshippers and a heart to glorify God, I take it you are saying that the music overpowers all of that (including any scripture used in the lyrics) and makes it immoral? Seems like bit of a stretch, but as I stated before – I'm not in the know on the technical side of things.

  60. You essentially prove my point rather than disprove it. Your statement by itself was moral, but you're right, I didn't know whether or not you were writing with disdain. Propositional statements by themselves rarely communicate tone.

    But vocal inflection or facial expression, had you said that statement to me, would have communicated to me what you really implied by the statement.

    Musical form is like vocal inflection – it communicates a meaning deeper beneath the propositional statement, and yes, can often contradict the mere statement itself.

  61. Okay. So you are saying that the musical style is what drives and overshadows all the other aspects? (which can lead to an unscriptural view of the Scriptures) So I could sing about a meadow in the style of a hymn and that would be acceptable. But if I praise God to pop music, that is wrong? Seems like a strange matrix to live within. I guess it really all goes back to associations rather than communication, doesn't it? And that is where people of your ilk and people of my ilk with always disagree.

  62. Wow, there's a lot to respond to here. I'll start with Jeff's comments.

    I'll address your last comment first, Jeff. I'm not sure where you get the idea that I think that we can attain music that is free from the corrupting effects of sin. I don't think that and that's not at all what I said. I said that under Ken's perspective, music must be viewed as being free from the effects of sin, since he says that it is morally neutral. I agree that our best hymns on Sunday morning are still falling short and are not free from the effects of sin. Several of our best hymns acknowledge this fact in their lyrics:

    "the humbler creation, though feeble their lays, with true adoration shall lisp to your praise." (O Worship the King) – for example

    So we're not in disagreement here. You misunderstood what I wrote. I'm sorry if I didn't write it clearly enough.

    In response to your second full paragraph: Humans are in the business of creating music. Angels sing, stars sing, God sings, Jesus sings, the 24 elders in heaven sing, but we're not given access to that singing or to the compositions that are being sung. I speculate that all of that singing is perfect, flawless singing – perfect in the beauty of the structures of the compositions, perfect in the beauty of the execution of its singing.

    But the singing we have access to here on earth is flawed in composition and in execution – some more than others. We are told in Scripture to dwell on that which is lovely, excellent, praise-worthy. Some compositions have none of these traits. Some singing has none of these traits. This is where the Bible calls for discernment – discernment which Ken seems to want to disregard. Consideration of craftsmanship is part of this discernment.

    I think you misappropriate both Christ's and Paul's statements regarding uncleanness. In both cases the context in which they are speaking is that of food. Unlike food, music IS that which comes out of man's heart and mind; as Scott is saying here, it IS a form of communication like that which Jesus is speaking about, and as such it is subject to a moral context and evaluation.

    If I understand you correctly, Jeff, you have said that music is incorruptible ("So there is a sense in which music is not corruptible." and "Music may be corrupted by man, but by that I mean that man corrupts himself with his connection to it."). Yet you have also acknowledged that the music that we know as human beings is CREATED BY MAN, and, music created by man cannot be created free from the effects of sin.

    So I have two questions for you, Jeff:

    Is music corruptible, or is it incorruptible?

    What is this music that you're speaking of that is incorruptible? Who composes it? Where can I hear it?

    In my understanding of your email you have said two contradictory things: that music is incorruptible in one sense, and on the other hand that no music may be created that is free from the effects of the Fall. Can you help me to understand what you're saying, and especially what is the kind of music that is incorruptible?


  63. In response to Michael's 11:02 a.m. comments:

    Dear Michael,

    I have a great deal of respect for Joe the Plumber.

    You are correct when you say that experiences, associations, and surroundings impact the emotion one feels when a song is performed. But this is only one means of music's ability to communicate. This 'associative' form of communication is personal, individualized, and highly subjective.

    The other principal means of communication is found by examining the objective sound constructs of the music itself for the sound signifiers. It goes by different names, but I prefer the name 'bioacoustic.'

    Scott has an excellent article on this website that describes the differences between these two modes of musical communication. Maybe he could provide a link to that article? His book "Worship in Song" also does a great job of describing this in detail. John Makujina, Old Testament scholar and author of "Measuring the Music," has provided an excellent exegetical treatment of several scriptural passages that convinced me that that the bioacoustic model is the biblically sound model for evaluating music for worship. I'd strongly encourage you to read it and decide for yourself. He treats both communication models very fairly before coming to a conclusion. I'm not going to define these models further here, because there are excellent resources that are easily available that will help you learn what they are better than what I can describe. Understanding them is crucial to an understanding of music in worship.

    You're right, also, Michael, when you point out that the sound that Moses and Joshua heard was not condemned on the spot. But you must consider the broader context that the Israelites were told by Aaron that they would be worshiping the Lord with this festival. It's worth noting that Joshua did not recognize these sounds as the familiar sounds of worship and mistook them for the sounds of war. (I believe that the Hebrew word used for all of these sounds in the passage is the word for 'song,' but I may be wrong.) Your presumption that the sound was distinct is just that: a presumption. Moses was told by God that the Israelites were in rebellion and knew that in advance as he and Joshua were on their way down the mountain. His lack of condemnation of the sound at the time of hearing it is insignificant. He KNEW the Israelites were committing idolatry at that very moment. He was silent about it until he addressed it with the idolators themselves. (After all, why uselessly spend your anger in the presence of only Joshua, who was not committing idolatry.) The incongruity of the singing with worship and Joshua's confusion of it with a sound (or song) of war is adequate to prove the point. Your description of the passage as 'overused' is irrelevant. If I have applied the passage correctly then it cannot be 'overused.' If have haven't applied the passage incorrectly, then I am simply wrong and should be dismissed. "Increasingly outdated" is another irrelevant charge for the application of this passage. Truth and falsehood have no expiration dates.

    Michael, I'm not sure how to interpret Ken in the way you do. Ken said: "ALL music is God's." [emphasis is original] You defended him by saying, ". . . I personally do not believe that all music is God’s and I don’t think that was the point Ken was making." I'm not sure how much more clearly Ken could have said that ALL music is God's. I think that was precisely the point Ken was making.

    I listened to a Lacrae song before writing to you, and while I don't want to do a breakdown of the musical elements of this song as I did for Roley's tune, I can tell you that the musical gestures used in the 'song' I listened to had strong sexual signifiers. (I put the word 'song' in quotation marks, because the word is usually used of compositions that contain melody; this one didn't.) Of course Lacrae's words didn't address sex, but the sounds he used did. But it's as Scott said above, the sound of the music overwhelms the propositional statements of the text. (Sarcasm is another verbal example of this sort of thing.) That you can't hear this says either that you have personalized religious associations with these sounds or that you are desensitized to the sounds behind the words – not that I don't have a brain.

    And finally: you're right that you made some major assumptions – not only in the last statement, but in the entire paragraph. I'm not condemning emotion, I'm condemning emotion that is incongruent with the text. Please re-read. It would be wrong to hear the words of Christ's suffering on the cross and giggle. Or to hear of the glory of Christ's resurrection and shout curses in anger. The Bible tells us to sing with spirit and with understanding. Paul tells us to do ALL things in worship in a FITTING manner. That includes setting the texts we sing to the music we use in a FITTING manner. The 16th century psalms we sing in our church, as well as the music we sing that was written in the last ten years, moves strong men I know to tears, as well as encourages spirited shouts of "Amen." Music doesn't have to have a back-beat to evoke emotion. No, I'm not condemning emotion. I'm saying that some emotions (and therefore some musics) are not fitting for worship. Your comments about 16th century psalm settings are dismissive of the excellent music and worship practices of entire generations of Christ's church – please reconsider. Do you not have anything to learn from the generations of saints that preceded you and the affections that they considered fitting for worship?

    Michael, are there any musics (considering the sounds of the music only, not the texts) that you believe would be unfit for use in Christian worship? If so, why?

    Thanks for engaging in conversation, Michael.


  64. Tim,
    Wonderful response! Thank you for your time. You made several good points, and I will concede where needed. But two things I would respond to. I'm still not getting the level at which you are looking at music. I may look up the book you mentioned. Perhaps I'm like a 5 year old trying to understand calculus. What I mean is, you said you listened to a Lecrae song and then commented on his gestures. Did you watch the video? Was he grabbing his crotch or something? Maybe gestures refers to a musical style. Is it possible you are so smart that you are taking it a bit too far? His music was sexual? I can honestly say that I have never had a sexual thought or urge because of a Lecrae song. What does that mean? Does that mean your point is individual specific and should be dropped? I'm really confused as to how a combination of beats, all by themselves, can be sexual.
    I am not dismissing hymns or old songs. My beliefs tend to be more inclusive. I love hymns and grew up with them.
    What music is acceptable for worship? Sounds like a question I was asked right before my alma mater separated from me because we didn't see eye to eye on the issue! :) In general, the answer to your question would be no. More specifically, I do not think a wordless version of "I'm too sexy" would be appropriate. But there we go taking the discussion beyond just the combination of notes.
    There is no doubt you guys are way smart. But I've met a lot of smart people you had no common sense. They make great engineers! :) I've just not come across a reasonable, Scriptural argument that shows the music, apart from associations, performance, motive, etc, is moral. But thanks for your time. I know it takes a lot to think through these things and I do appreciate the obvious time you have taken.

  65. Response in Two Parts: PART TWO

    Michael, I'm not sure I understood your paragraph that begins: "What music is acceptable for worship?" Are you saying that you think that all music is acceptable for worship? That's what I read from your words. But then do you say the only exception is a wordless version of "I'm too sexy"? That's what I understand that you're saying. Please correct me if I'm wrong. If that's correct, why would a wordless version of "I'm too sexy" be unacceptable? Is it that you have the words too firmly in your mind to dismiss? Or is it that the sounds of the song (apart from the words) too easily suggest sensuality?

    One final point about the emotional aspect of singing. The apostle Paul makes the point in I Corinthians 14:40 that all things in worship must be done in a fitting manner. If we consider that singing is a commanded element of worship, and if we can agree that music communicates emotion apart from text, it seems to be a logical conclusion to make that the music we use to carry the words and doctrines of Scripture (in our Psalms and hymns) should be evaluated separately for their expression, and that expression should 'fit' the text in emotional tone. If the text speaks of the lament of Christ's suffering and crucifixion on the cross, it would not be fitting to use a dance, or a romantic love song to carry this text. As Scott says so well in his book, the incongruity of these kinds of musical affects with the text incorrectly teaches the heart how to feel about this aspect of the Gospel. Scott makes a great case that the character of the music is more readily received and retained than the propositional content of the text itself. He cites sarcasm (which uses incongruity between propositional content and tone of voice or body expression) as an example of our willingness to receive the intent of tone over words.

    I hope this helps to understand where folks are coming from, Michael. I appreciate your willingness to believe in the sincerity of conviction of those on both sides of the argument. The basic idea is that there are many folks who believe that when the Bible talks about music (and it does talk about music with no text), it does so from the perspective that musical sounds communicate emotion separately from words, and that these musical sounds communicate universally – across cultures and times. The fact that folks who listen to music that was written 300 years ago can still feel the same feelings that those people (from different cultures) listening in those days write about having felt is an experiential evidence that these interpretations of Scripture are not off the mark.

    Please don't take just my poorly written word for it though. Get Scott's book and Makujina's book, read the biblical arguments, and decide for yourself. It makes a tremendous difference to read scholars on both sides of the argument.

    Best wishes.

  66. I'm not even sure if I should respond since I kept waking up last night thinking about all of this. If I could only get my brain to work so well on other things!
    I'm definitely going to have to read Makujina's work since the whole bioacoustical theory is worth considering. But I'm not sure if I accept the fact that our responses are always or have to be involuntary. As you pointed out, for whatever reason, the 'backbeat' does not encourage or affect in me sexual notions. I still believe it is more than just the combination of notes that makes music moral or immoral – even if it is merely the intention of the artist combined with the music.
    I have begun to listen to a series of lectures by Makujina that he gave at DBTS. I'm just getting into it, but so far he has compared the CCM proponents to the Columbine killers and atheists. I would expect such generalizations from someone as unskilled as myself, but not from a 'star' of the opposition. I do hope, for the sake of your cause, that it gets better. He was kind enough to state that the debate is only an issue among those who might be considered 'fundamentalist' in the popular sense of the word.
    I didn't watch the video you posted, but I'm assuming its Marilyn and JFK. But I see this as supporting both sides. Yes, a song can be sung in a seductive way and that one certainly was. But I would argue that the intent of the artist was the key factor that produced the style of singing. I'm just having a hard time getting past the fact that it takes more than just the arrangement of notes to communicate morality or immorality and even then, it seems fairly strained. But I will study further for my own edification.
    Your misunderstanding of my answer to appropriate music was a bit funny. My point in citing Right Said Fred was that it is the associative principle that makes the tune inappropriate – primarily. Not many people could hear that and not think of very strange things! So it is a combination of elements and not just the music.
    But that leads me to where you and I surely agree. When it comes to the methods and means of worshiping God, we must be careful. I am all fore careful consideration of all elements of a song and an evaluation of its appropriateness. I would not recommend Jesus Freak as a song to be used in a formal worship service, but neither would I suggest Bach or Sousa. I do not see problems with any of them, but for every thing there is a place and season.
    Oh yeah, side note. With the whole bioacoustic idea. Can we not use this for good? I know you feel the whole back beat thing is inseparable from sex, but consider this. "Am I a soldier of the cross?" is, in my opinion, one of the most mismatched tunes of all time. The words call for aggressiveness and valor and the tune puts you to sleep. (I know, I know. You think this proves your point! :) ) So what about "Hold On" by Flame and "Frontline" by Pillar? If you engage yourself with the songs, you can get pretty pumped up about fighting the good fight and enduring what the world throws at you. And I'm not arguing from an 'experienced based' platform. I know experience, when honed by the Holy Spirit, can be a good guide – but not infallible. If all other elements of a song are God honoring and you could allow for the truth that a combination of notes, in and of themselves, are innocuous – wouldn't you have a powerful tool for glorifying God?
    Back to where we agree. Of all things I have read and studied (Garlock, Minnick, Lucarini, etc.) I have found myself in agreement with just about all of them theologically. The rub is in the application.
    It seems to me that most of the arguments against CCM (most) have come out of the outward focused fundamentalist schools of thought. It also seems that most (again, most) of the arguments against CCM have fallen to the way side. I had the opportunity to pose a few questions to Lucarini once about some points he was making. The two questions I remember asking were, "Is it possible to differentiate among the large group labeled as CCM and how do you deal with the churches that have stood doctrinally sound for years while still using CCM?" The second question was directed as his statement that CCM inevitably leads to a decline in doctrine. And Dan is not the only one who has ever said that – I was brought up on it! He decided not to answer the first question and his reply to the second was, "That's the one that we have the most trouble explaining. It is always a tough one." All that to say, it seems as if some proponents have stuck to their guns even if it means defying logic while others have retreated to a highly technical breakdown of the minutiae as the final fortress, decrying all who will not listen to the 'experts'. Our problem is that there are 'experts' on both sides! What a dilemma! Though I believe that music is a big part of the human experience (try watching a movie with no sound!), I do not think it is worth all that is being given to it. I believe we cannot get apathetic in our desire for and worshiping of God. But I think we have to be careful to balance our energies. For me it lies somewhere around the version debate (which, if I had to guess by your elitist take on music, I would say you guys are KJV only! Just kidding – sort of.). They are disagreements that will continue until we all get to heaven and realize how incredibly pathetic we all are in the light of God's glory.
    Thanks for you time. Off to give Makujina his fair shake! :)

  67. Dear Michael,

    I'm very impressed by your willingness to read up on the opposition! Makujina does spend a goodly amount of time discussing cultural issues that are beyond just the musical elements. The crux of his explanation for the bioacoustic vs. associative models occurs in Appendix C (which, though it's an appendix, is pretty big).

    Regarding Marylin Monroe's performance: I agree that the intent of the artist is what produced the effect, but the instrumental means by which she produced that effect are the sounds she used (as I described above). I don't think you're arguing from the other side with that argument – you're arguing from the music has meaning side! Those sounds are what communicate her intent. When a performer is faithful to the intent of the composer, the intent of the composer is communicated to the listener across cultures and across time. (Of course, I realize that the listener creates another variable in the chain of events and that's where the associative communication model explains much.) The chain of events can be understood using Aristotle's theory of causes (formal cause, instrumental cause, etc.). There are variables at every point along the link, but the process begins with the intent of the composer. It can be spoiled or altered by the performer, and it can be spoiled or altered by the listener, but that's the nature of sin. The chain of events – composer chooses musical constructs, performer interprets and executes musical constructs through a medium, listener hears and responds to musical events – is complex with lots of opportunity for breakdown. But in its best form, the composer's intent is communicated through a competent interpreter/performer to a listener to is devoid of associative responses. It's when the listener insists that "my response is true for me" and "your response is true for you" and therefore "there is no absolute" that we have an impasse. You'll recognize those phrases as belonging to postmodernism – what the Bible would call the 'spirit of the age.' Makujina's observation – that the Lord compares his own immutable feelings to the melodies played on flutes and harps – is a strong condemnation of this musical relativism. Musical relativism is the 'new' approach to comprehending music and has not been recognized in recorded history until the last 50 years. Does it give you pause to think that your case belongs to the postmodern philosophers?

    Your questions to Lucarini are on a small scale time-wise. Using pop/rock in worship is pretty recent (early 1960s at the earliest), unless you include the forerunners of the American gospel song and Southern gospel along the lines of the Gaithers. Lucarini's point about decline in doctrine is accurate on the whole, but not the foundation on which I rest my objection to pop/rock. The real damage is done to the Gospel itself in the incongruity of the affect of the tunes and the texts (surfer-dude Jesuses, hip-hop Jesuses, and Jesus, my boyfriend). The second line of damage is to the individual, who has been taught incorrectly how to feel about the Gospel. The third line of damage is to the church as a whole. It happens in waves. I've witnessed it locally.

    Why would you not suggest Sousa in a worship service if music is amoral and means nothing apart from the words? How about a polka? Would that be ok? How about the following words set to the beginning of "Saturday in the Park"?

    Bless the Lord
    O my soul
    Forget not all his benefits

    Unfortunately, you're right – there are 'experts' on all sides. The task is to evaluate all the opinion in light of Scripture and see which one most closely squares with the commands and examples (both explicit and implicit) of our God. (Makujina handles your analogy to food very well.)

    Regarding my elitist take on music: we're all elitists when it comes to brain surgery. Not any doctor will do; the consequences are too great. In music, the consequences seem relatively insignificant. After all, if I like it, what's wrong with enjoying it? I think the consequences are there, but harder to connect in terms of cause and effect. But the biggest issue for me affectively is Paul's command to do all things in worship in a fitting manner. Music and words must fit to the best of our pathetic abilities. We haven't even discussed biblical issues of craftsmanship and holiness.

    I agree that we will all see how poor our efforts are in heaven. Yet we are commanded to give our first fruits out of gratitude for what's been done for us. Pop/rock simply isn't the Christian church's musical first fruits at any level.

    I'd challenge you to take a month long vacation from pop/rock music and see how your sensibilities toward it change when you return. (I've never done it, but I've read accounts from people who have and they were stunned at their own responses when returning.)

    Enjoy Makujina!

  68. Response in two parts: PART ONE


    Well, you’ve gone and complimented me into more explaining! : )
    By the way, the issue is not so much smartness as the fact that I’ve just been doing this a long time. I’ll bet you’re good at what you do, and you wouldn’t think I’m so smart at your job!

    Ok, so here is the gist of it:

    Most of what follows is a summary of Makujina’s points in “Measuring the Music.” I would still encourage you to get his book, because he explains it in more detail working through more scripture passages and details of the argument. Scott’s book also does an excellent job and is more readable. Makujina’s book is kind of technical aesthetically. Though not a trained musician himself, Makujina has made an excellent study of culture, music, aesthetics, and worship in this book, with several relevant scriptural passages exegetically treated.

    Makujina labors at length to assert that music is an emotional language and as such is not amoral any more than what we speak is morally neutral. He defines and summarizes the two basic models by which music is understood to communicate to human beings (the associative model and the bioacoustic model), and then he exegetes particular passages from the Bible to assert that the bioacoustic model is the one to which Scripture adheres. Let me put it in non-jargon terms:

    The associative model of musical communication says that individuals may develop associations with a particular piece of music or even an entire style of music. The associations may or may not be related logically to any analytical description of the music itself. For instance, a man in our congregation once told me that he cannot sing “Wonderful Grace of Jesus” from the Trinity Hymnal; he weeps every time he hears or sings it. I was puzzled, since this song has a pretty lively character, akin to a college fight song, and doesn’t have any typically ‘sad’ sound signifiers. He then explained that the song was sung at both his mother’s and father’s funerals and the song has a very strong memory of the death of both of his parents. This kind of associative response can happen in entire cultures. The most famous example is the association that many Jews of a certain age have with the tune entitled “Austrian Hymn” (Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken). It seems that this tune was played by the Nazis as Jews were marched off to gas chambers during WWII, accounting for the deep horror many Jews feel when they hear this tune. The tune itself contains none of the typical sound signifiers for fear, dread, or anxiety of any kind.

    The bioacoustic model describes the interaction between human emotion, the body’s physical motions, and sound. For example, when humans are sad the body language tends to be slow, downwardly oriented, soft, and smooth. Emotions that are from the opposite ends of the spectrum (joy, happiness, etc.) tend to manifest in opposite types of body motions: upward gestures more rapidly, louder, and often angular. Makujina makes the point that these responses are universal and time-transcendent: Chinese sad-lookingness is the same as African sad-lookingness is the same as Australian sad-lookingness. At its fundamental level, music ‘moves’ people by emulating these bodily motions using sound in real time. There are four basic elements used by composers to do this: pitch, rhythm, volume, and timbre. Skilled composers arrange these elements in myriad combinations so that they work together to produce perceptions of motion, which in turn evoke emotion that are naturally connected with the motion. (It is no coincidence that the word ’emotion’ contains the word ‘motion.’) Complex emotions (such as nostalgia, triumph, confidence, etc.) often require multiple lines of music working simultaneously to achieve these multi-faceted feelings.

    Makujina goes on to exegete several scriptural passages to demonstrate that of these two modes of musical communication, the bio-acoustic model is the one implicitly endorsed as primary by the Bible. Interestingly, he points out that our immutable God compares his own feelings to that of music played by flutes (Isaiah 48:36, among other places). The bioacoustic approach is by no means a concrete approach to emotional communication, but it operates within fairly narrow ranges of emotions analogically. It’s not possible, for instance, to put a baby to sleep to a rousing march, or to send an army to battle using a lullabye. These are ludicrous scenarios that demonstrate extreme incongruities in the affect of the music and the character of the motion. It’s more difficult, though, to accurately distinguish between general sadness and grief. Composers generally have an intention of emotional expression when writing, and the arrangement of these sound tools (pitch, rhythm, dynamics, and timbre) are part of their craft. These tools left in the compositions are further employed by the performers, who have great influence over the tools themselves and are many time responsible for the success or the failure of a composer’s work. I am a performer and spend my days interpreting the signs for sound left behind by composers.

    A very convincing point made by Makujina is that following the associative model results in chaos and disorder (One person says, “This music means x to me.” Another says, “This same music means y to me.”) The result is a kind of musical chaos along the order of current postmodern approaches to literature and language interpretation. In fact, the dominance of this associative approach to music is relatively new, having arrived in academia only in the last few decades and immediately embraced by our individualistic and choice-oriented culture.

    Scott Aniol has an article on the distinction between these two modes of communication as well. He uses different terms, but the explanations are very helpful. That link is:

    Here’s another example, that I hope will prove will help clarify, rather than muddy the waters. Take a listen to this with your eyes closed:

    What is she saying to the president? Is it simply “Happy Birthday?” Or is it, “I find you sexy and have feelings of lust for you?” How do you know? It seems to be clear to the audience in attendance what she’s saying.

    In this setting, it’s not the words, and it’s not the tune that communicates incongruently with the words. It’s the manner in which the tune is sung that communicates above all. (This is what I mean by the composer giving over his creation to the performer.) What specifically about her sound communicates sex? The intimate, breathy tone, gliding between notes without landing decisively on them, and the aggressive, pant-like exhales in the middle of phrases are just a few of the specifics of the sounds that she makes that overtly communicate sensuality. These sound signifiers call to mind the intimacy and physical nearness of a lover (breathy tone), the caressing of the skin (gliding between notes), and the breathlessness that occurs during activities of an adult nature. These characteristics don’t always mean this, but are context-specific when taken together with other sound elements.

    When I used the word ‘gesture’ to describe the sounds in Lecrae’s song, it was musical jargon. I apologize. “Gesture” is a word musicians use to describe the composite of sound activities that must take place to communicate an idea. The clearest and the most dominant sound indicator of sensuality from among the sounds Lacrae has chosen is the syncopated back-beat. I’ll leave you to deduce its physical corollary. If you can’t hear the manner in which the backbeat communicates sensuality, I’d suggest that it’s because you have either been desensitized to this sound by its omni-presence in our culture, or you have other associations with the song that overwhelm its natural musical expression. Rock musicians know this and write about it with an absoluteness in their words. The backbeat communicates sex. Period. Hundreds of rock musicians have talked and written about this. It is well known and taken for granted in the rock music world, yet the CCM community suppresses and denies it in the misguided notion that changing the words changes the expression of the sounds.

  69. Sorry I haven't been involved in the conversation, gentlemen. We left South Carlonina last evening and drove through the night for Michigan (ah, what we'll do for a peaceful trip with children!), so I've been sleeping all morning.

    BUT, Tim is doing such a great job, I really don't have much more to say. In fact, He said everything I would have. Great job, Tim.

    And great, cordial conversation. Good work, men. I hope we're all sharpened.

  70. I just stumbled across this blogpost while doing research for a paper on the retuned movement, and I can't resist chiming in.

    Two notes by way of background: 1. I'm pleased that Tim starts with the assumption that music means something. It's a non-verbal art form, so it is notoriously difficult to tease out meaning from notes, but ignoring music in favor of words diminishes music, which we all intuitively know has deep meaning. 2. I don't have any personal investment in this particular song. It has a certain charm, but I don't use it in my church and I don't feel any need to defend it.

    So, while I agree with the basic intent of Tim's blogpost (analyzing the fittingness of a musical setting) and agree with his conclusion (Roley's setting is not especially fitting), I find his methods suspect–perhaps dangerous.

    He sets up Roley's "And Can It Be" as a straw man and uses it to indict the rest of the retuned repertoire and all of CCM. A more helpful and gracious approach would be to compare and contrast Roley's setting to the more commonly used hymn tune for this text, SAGINA. What he would find is that Thomas Campbell's flowery tune is not at all congregational and it shows none of the humble restraint one would expect from a song meant for worship. Hopefully examining subpar songs from two different genres would keep him from making sweeping statements about the invalidity of one of those genres.

    I'm glad that someone is looking more deeply at music as a source of spiritual discipline. But we all need to be more aware of the biases that taint our evaluations of music and our interpretation of scripture.

  71. Kind of surprised no on mentioned that anything apart from faith is sin…implying that anything done in faith…is pleasing to God. If we are to leave the “music making” to the “experts” and those “skilled” at their craft…how would we deal with the deaf/mute? How would we deal with the child that has not yet learned? Those “skilled” does not necessarily mean those “educated.” I know many that are “skilled” beyond measure but are not learned men…would probably put Peter into that category. I believe the Scriptures said something about “people taking notice that they had been with Jesus” as the distinguishing mark of their lives…not their skillfulness. Finally, you all had better not talk about the economy or make any economic decisions for your family without talking to me…since I am “skilled and learned” in that area. :)

  72. This means that the Chancellor. Among the 1
    you know if this is where the entire project from school bus the bottom of the project owners focused on keeping the project, a steady stream of prospects.
    By choosing the school bus right one. A heavy construction company?
    Their markup for their skills, experience is usually
    known school bus in the form because professional contractors that offer
    these specialist accounting services, that’s just one company offers, log cabin, residential and commercial premise.
    Also check that the contractors who work for both residential and commercial properties in Philadelphia.

Leave a reply