MUSIC: Pain, Pleasure, and Promise

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(Author’s Note: This essay was written during the week after Christmas, 2022.  My goal was to help people who are not musicians understand what we singers, players, composers, and arrangers are doing with our lives as we attempt to create music.  I feel our art is routinely underestimated.  Good artists make their work look easy and too many times their leaders are fooled by this. They think we are entertainers!  We are not. We are truth-tellers who deal in highly detailed beauty that is desperately needed by our world.)

Music Is a Force of Nature.
Man did not invent music; God created it.  There is a big difference between these contrasting origins.  Human inventions come and go.  Good ideas are replaced by better ideas.  Manmade machines enjoy their season and are replaced by other manufactured devices.  The things God made have a bit of eternity in them. They linger across centuries of time, traverse deserts and mountain ranges, and sail beyond vast oceans to take root wherever human hearts need them.  In His wisdom, God loaded the remedies for the trials of people into the secrets of Creation,

  • food and medicine in plants and animals,
  • energy and jewels in the earth itself, and
  • wisdom and beauty in the languages we use to say, “Good morning!” to each other.

In music is found the healing Balm of Gilead, the Living Water of Joy, and a Soul-lifting Hope for a better tomorrow.  Those of us who create music, deal in these commodities.

What Is Music? Pitch
Music is the measured vibration of a string (violins, guitars, pianos) or a column of air (brasses, woodwinds, the human voice).  The vibrating string or column of air produces specific sounds called pitches in measured sets: intervals of closely related sounds called overtones.  When the vibrating column of air or tightly stretched string is doubled or halved, the result is a higher or lower version of the same sound—amazing! One of the most astonishing creations of God is the octave—the note that is repeated higher and lower by 8 scale tones (the source of the term “octave”).  Men and women sing an octave part—brilliant!  Because of this a child can hear the difference in his/her parents’ voices! This octave also creates the right hand/left hand treble clef/bass treble clef range for keyboards.  All of music is located on this staff appropriately called “The Grand Staff.”

“Grand” is the proper term for this invention.  All of tonal music from small groups to huge bands, choirs, and orchestras operates in this environment.  The instruments of the band and orchestra are actually extensions of the one instrument God Himself made—the human body.

What Is Music? Rhythm
Music also exists in time, echoing the human heartbeat—regular beats.  These beats can even be subdivided to give the music an internal life of its own.  People discovered these creations and learned to control them.   In the music of Western Civilization, there are only 12 tones before repetition begins and beats are only divided by 2 or 3 before they started combining.  All the music of Western Civilization comes from 12 pitches and 2 rhythm patterns before people start combining and altering them.  If such economy of creation is not evidence of Divine origin, I cannot imagine what other evidence is needed.

One other definitive thing: In Western Civilization man’s discovery of and development of how music is made came chiefly from the Judeo-Christian traditions.  In the worship of Jehovah, solo singing became group singing which became congregational singing.  Those who shared the creative urge with their CREATOR began to create the solos, instrumental pieces, and congregational songs demanded by the People of God. Just a few centuries into New Covenant worship musicians developed a highly efficient system of musical notation to facilitate the transfer of music from person to person and from generation to generation.  Notation, which now organizes and facilitates most of the music of the world, was developed in the church as an aid to worship.

For more on the gift of notation:

In view of this, we must ask: Why did God create music?  Simply put, the reason is this:  People need music.  It is more than a diversion; it is an essential.  I will present three humans needs met by the application of music.

Life hurts.  From illness or physical suffering to emotional trials to mental anguish, everyone experiences pain.  The sound of music can ease this pain.  So much music has been created to ease the pain of a suffering humanity.  When slaves were worked past the point of exhaustion the work song was developed to ease their pain.  Can you imagine the funeral of a loved one without the addition of the soothing songs of mourning?  Even the fearful hearts of soldiers marching off to battle are eased somewhat by the patriotic song or the military march that placate the fear of injury or death with a hope of victory and/or survival.  Is there an answer the ancient biblical question, “Is there no Balm in Gilead?”[1] Yes. Music is the God-given medicine that delivers a respite for life’s pain.  Thank God for it!

On the other end of the human spectrum from pain is pleasure.  Jesus promised those who turn to him will find Living Water to slake their human thirst. Music is the cup that holds that water.  Drinking from this heavenly well inside of us, brings profound joy.  We may dance or fall in love or celebrate a victory or simply “feel-good-all-over-more-than-anywhere-else” through music for it is the celebration of life itself.  Isn’t it wonderful news that we are commanded to “Come before His presence with joyful songs?” [2]  Joy is a command of Scripture and joy is expressed in song.  As Nehemiah, the Old Testament leader, said, “The joy of the Lord is our strength.”[3] When the pain of life dissolves into joy, the lament has become laughter.

A great song is like a freight train moving mightily down the tracks; powerful, dependable, and guided by skillful hands.  Here’s an important question:  What is inside the train?  The cars could be filled with hazardous materials, or with valuable products ready for the market, or with tons of raw materials ready for the factory, or they could even be empty.  Music is like that, too. The message of the music determines its usefulness. The music of worship must be filled with the truth of God and with the testimonies of God’s people.  In the New Testament, we are told to sing three kinds of songs each with specific content:

  1. Psalms, “songs of praise with instruments,”
  2. Hymns, “songs addressed to God,” and
  3. Spiritual Songs, “songs born in the heart of the Holy Spirit.”[4]

These songs contain the Word of God in the power of the Spirit of God.  Through them we can be filled with the Spirit and the Word of God can dwell in us richly.  And what is the result of such music? The promises of God to us are brought before our minds as they sound in our very own voices, building our faith!  Our souls are lifted up with hope as courage straightens our backbone and our mind is renewed.  Such is the power of worship music.

I hope this brief foray into the true nature of music will result in a new respect for the ministry of worship through song.  The faithful under-shepherds leading the church must appreciate the singers, players of the Lord’s music, and the “Chief Musicians” who are called and skilled to lead them. Also, the singers, players, and leaders of this music must be careful to load the train well. Worship music is not a show. It is not a diversion.  It is nothing less than the fulfillment of the New Covenant promise–the writing of the Word of God into the minds and hearts of God’s people.[5]

Man did not invent music; God created it.  Let us be wise enough to respect it and use it well.

Psalm 33:1-3 NKJV
Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous! For praise from the upright is beautiful. Praise the Lord with the harp; Make melody to Him with an instrument of ten strings. Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy.

[1] Jeremiah 8:22

[2] Psalm 100:2 NIV

[3] Nehemiah 8:10

[4] Ephesians 5:19 / Colossians 3:16  Definitions from Vine’s Dictionary of NT Words

[5] Hebrews 10:16

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2022 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

MUSIC: Pain, Pleasure, and Promise

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