On the Necessity of Music

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We need music. At first the idea sounds ridiculous. We may need food, water, shelter, maybe even TiVo, but do humans really need music?

Even the musician Rich Mullins questioned this idea and once said, “The thing that’s cool about music is how unnecessary it is. Of all things, music is the most frivolous and the most useless. You can’t eat it, you can’t drive it, you can’t live in it and you can’t wear it,” but then he added. “But your life wouldn’t be worth much without it.”

And there’s the rub!

Musicians need to make music because it is the gift God has given them.

In the earliest pages of the Bible, right there in Genesis, only three professions are mentioned. Jabal worked with the animals on the farm, Tubal-cain made all kinds of bronze and iron tools, and right there in the big three, JUBAL played the lyre and the harp.

If you think musicians have a tough time today, with parents asking why they don’t get a real job, imagine poor JUBAL in the earliest days of human civilization, making music while the existence of the human race was at stake. But he had to do it, because God made him for the express purpose of making music.

That is why biographer James Bryan Smith said, “Rich Mullins was not encumbered by the need to succeed; he was captive to the need to create.”

It appears that humans actually need music as much as musicians need to make it!

King Saul suffered from depression and when he was feeling down, lacking modern pharmaceuticals as he was, he called on young David, a shepherd, to come and play the harp. It helped him.

Music actually has a physical effect on humans, not just psychological, as Mark Oppenlander, my friend and colleague at Seattle Pacific University reminded me. This is because music (in the form of sound waves) is physical. Studies have shown that plants, animals and humans all respond in unique ways to different forms of music and that those reactions in some cases occur at a cellular level.

Music soothes and comforts. It touches the depths of our beings. It can make us feel. It can improve our learning. According to modern research, when a baby listens to Mozart in the womb, patterns of learning are developed.

It turns out being gifted does not mean one necessarily possess grace, maturity or personal character.

Speaking of Mozart, from birth he possessed an innate, exceptional natural capacity for creativity and originality. His immaturity combined with his talent was maddening to musicians like Antonio Salieri. As Mozart’s music became more popular over the decades, Salieri’s music was largely forgotten, a reality the sometimes insensitive Mozart did not always handle with compassion. That is why churches need to select worship leaders based on spiritual maturity, not just talent.

Rich Mullins understood that his gift and the onstage role it afforded him, required a deeper spiritual walk.

After years of writing music for other artist’s, his decision to perform his own music was not driven by a quest for fame, but by a desire to use his music to serve. A letter to his recording label survives him. In it Rich said this, “I want to be involved as much as possible in church work. I want to work in settings that are specifically designed to challenge people, to encourage people to seek their life in Christ. I would like not only to sing but to teach¢â‚¬¦to “hang out” with people, to be accessible, to model faith [to] them, to be with people, not as a performer, but as a practitioner of the faith.”

So we see that TO be a musician is no higher or lower calling than any other. Again Rich Mullins. “You don’t write because the world needs your music; you write because you need to make order, to organize things. If you’re a musician, you express that very human, very common need by making music. If you’re a baker, you do it by making bread. It’s all the same goodness, it just expresses itself in different areas.”

And so we see–the thoughtful creative musician for whom God is of central importance needs to make music and the rest of us need the music they make!

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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    Posted in Staublog in May 23, 2007 by | No Comments »

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