Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Communication Through Music

I sang this at church the Sunday before last. This is sung by Steve Green. He's a tenor and I'm more of a baritone. I tell you this to give you an idea of how I might sound singing this. We have a state of the art digital sound system at church, but it's designed and tuned for amplification in our unique area. It doesn't produce studio quality recordings. Therefore, I have no usable recording of myself. Steve sings it just fine.

Edit: Dr. Jeff Spry, the Minister of Education at my church, read this and provided me with a recording from Sunday morning. It's still equalized for amplification, but it's not a bad live recording. I updated the video with the live audio.

Transposer just posted a thoughtful tribute to a friend of his who taught piano. Since I seem to be on a communication theme, I’ll take the occasion to discuss the non-verbal aspects of music. Songs have lyrics and therein may lay a message. However, music can convey much more than is in lyrics. What kind of communication happens with music?

First, I’ve considered being a musical ethnologist – a missionary who goes to remote people who are only now being presented the gospel. As some exhibit faith in Christ and gather to worship God, they may need help developing meaningful corporate worship. A musical ethnologist comes in and works with the permanent missionary and the new believers. He studies their music and its meaning to them as well as how they communicate together as a people and what the various affectations of their culture promote. He then advises leaders how to use these affectations to unify the expression of a body of believers in worship. So, while music plays a big role, there are other means for worshipping corporately.

For example, dance among Southern Baptists in the United States is associated with promoting lust between people. This is because of the culture we live in. Therefore, many Southern Baptist churches don’t allow dancing, especially in worship. However, some Hispanic cultures associate dance with familial bonding. These churches may use dance to encourage healthy relationships within their church family. The Jewish tradition is rich with dance as a form of worship. Therefore, Messianic congregations often find it appropriate to dance in worship.

Music is more than mere sound waves. Music is communication. The production of sound vibration involves the production of harmonics. These harmonics are the basis for much of the patterns of real, implied and tonal harmonic patterns (implied harmonics are usually called melodies and harmonic patterns that give each instrument a distinctive sound are often called tonal colors) used in musical cultures around the world. Cultural conditioning causes people within a culture to react emotionally to different harmonic patterns and rhythms differently. You can teach proper emotional response to theological propositions through music by combining meaningful lyrics with the appropriate harmonic patterns and rhythms for that culture. Worshippers conditioned in a similar cultural context will respond similarly. This gives meaning beyond mere words and unifies people within a corporate worship context. This is one type of communication.

Certainly I’ve missed the most obvious form of communication – that between musicians and their audience. Musicians love the music they make as though each piece were a child they raised. From the beginning where they heard the first tones in their mind’s ear through the process of developing and rehearsing every part, they raise this piece from infancy. When the piece has matured, they are pleased to offer it as a product of their hours of labor. A professional musician may be privileged to share a piece over and over again. Someone like me may spend hours upon hours perfecting a piece only to spend a few minutes sharing it. Those few minutes of communication are priceless.

I’ve been listening to Yo Iré for 1 ½ years. I started by translating the Spanish so I knew what it was. This past spring, I decided I wanted to sing it in Venezuela, but I needed the accompaniment track. I ordered the version from Steve Green ministries that came with the demo in English in case I wanted to sing it in English. After hours of practicing singing the Spanish pronunciations and conveying the message through my delivery, I was ready to go to Venezuela and sing it. When I got back, I started working on the English and decided to do part of it in English and part of it in Spanish. I then spent several hours over the course of a few weeks pulling together the images from a few of the missions our church has undertook recently on in order to create the video. The whole time, I have prayed through the words and prepared myself in worship so God can use my efforts to His glory. I pray that God was able to use the few minutes of presentation to encourage the hearts of my brothers and sisters toward missions. That’s communication.

Another venue of communication in music is between musicians. I have sung or played a variety of genres with a variety of musical groups. For choirs, orchestras, wind ensembles and jazz orchestras, you follow the director. You must also listen to those around you for blend and balance. With smaller groups there is usually a leader of sorts, but often arrangements are such that leadership may temporarily change throughout pieces. Each member must be followed by the rest of the members of the group at some point or another. A pianist must listen to the drummer for tempo and rhythm and to the bassist for improvised licks so that he doesn’t play atop the bassist. The bassist and drummer must coordinate bass rhythms. The fact is there is generally more communication between musicians than there is between the musicians and the audience/congregation. It may be technical, but music is a practice in communicating technical information by hearing and sight and using it to communicate the deeper meaning of the music between musicians. Without this, a group lacks cohesiveness and cannot communicate outwardly.

In high school, I knew a saxophone player named Tim Murdock who was an outstanding improvisational jazz artist. I could (and still can) compose music on the fly. I would sit at the piano and start playing. Tim would grab his axe and start adding melody to my changes. I could hear the implied harmonies in his melodies and adjust the direction of the changes to compensate. I could lead changes with internal moving licks that told Tim where I was going. We could fill an hour with nonstop original jazz music.

I’ve alluded to it already, but perhaps the greatest communication with music is between the musician and his Creator. The process of conceiving, composing, rehearsing and producing music is creative at every level. I’m convinced that there is a certain grace whereby we have been given the capacity by our Creator to create such as music. When I was in Bible college I sang in the choir. One concept stressed to us is that a Christian musician performs for an audience of One. Everything we do and every bit of music we create is to be offered up as praise to God and for His glory. While a Christian musician takes into consideration those he expects will listen, all these others before whom he stands and offers the music he creates are merely bystanders as he worships his Creator.

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