Music has the ability to both unify and separate. Think about it-how many times has one single song been used to represent and bring unity to a social movement? “We Shall Overcome” & “We are the World” immediately come to mind. The opposite is also true. History tells us of music such as Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” causing rioting in the streets of Paris during its debut.
What causes these polar opposite occurrences? Opinions! We all have plenty of those. What we like and don’t like. What we think sounds good or sounds bad. Oh, how we love to share, myself included. The problems occur when respect is absent from the sharing of said opinions.
At the beginning of the school year, I have discussions with my students concerning music and respect. After listing many different styles of music, students have the opportunity to share their favorite. I remind them that we always show respect for our friends opinions. We also talk about how boring it would be to hear the same music all the time, and the importance of giving something new a chance.
As I considered this respectful sharing of opinions, my thoughts moved from the classroom to the church. There is definitely a wide variety of styles and opinions concerning music in this realm. Having played piano in church since I was a little girl, I have experienced these styles and opinions on many occasions.
Hymns such as “Amazing Grace” and “What a Friend We have in Jesus” immediately take me back to my childhood. They provided a strong foundation for expressing my faith. As a teen I remember playing and singing the chorus “Pass it On” and listening to Keith Green’s “Songs for the Shepherd.” There was truth and power in this new style of song. Although different from the hymns, their meanings were the same. As an adult, songs such as “I Can Only Imagine” by Mercy Me and “Praise You in this Storm” by Casting Crowns provided comfort and reassurance during difficult times of grief when I questioned my faith.
Sadly, I have also witnessed the polarizing effect music can have in the church. As some choose to dig their heels in for tradition, unwilling to consider anything new, the result is often a weakened message. On the opposite side, others become so engulfed with constantly seeking something new, the message doesn’t have time to sink in or provide the intended encouragement.
So what’s my conclusion? Personally, I find security and strength in the old, while experiencing comfort and renewed energy in the new. I believe there’s room for both. But those are my opinions. If I lose focus, forgetting the reason for the music, then my opinions really don’t matter. Truthfully, in this situation I’m not sure they really matter anyway.
“Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.” Psalm 96:1
“…speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God…” Ephesians 5:19-20