Friday, October 18, 2013

J. S. Bach: mind and heart

As a musician I am obviously a lover of music. I am extremely picky however, and in fact more often than not I prefer silence to sound. Part of the reason for this preference is simply because too much sound can be overwhelming at times. Part of it is that when I listen to music, I want to really listen and give my attention to what is playing so that I can understand what is being communicated.

Music is a language; there is always something that is being communicated with sound. Sometimes it is an atmosphere, sometimes a story, sometimes a simple thought or emotion. Music is never neutral. It is composed with intent and purpose even if the listener is not aware of it.

I am aware that not everyone will agree with my view. There are those who would argue that as long as the lyrics are clean, then the melody, rhythm and overall style or genre of the music are irrelevant. Clean words are certainly a good thing for those of us who wish to protect our minds and hearts, but what about the rest of it? There is plenty of instrumental music around that can create a particular atmosphere or draw out certain emotions without a single word. There is music that makes people want to dance and there is music that touches our hearts so deeply that we are moved to tears. Should we not discriminate between different types of music, even if there are no lyrics? I would argue that we should. And so I do.

I am very careful about what kind of music I expose my children to. Not all music is created equal. Typically I find that the older the music is, the better. Now that is not always the case. Certainly there are many great composers today who write music that is well worth listening to, but in general older is usually better. I do my best to choose a wide variety of composers and musical genres to share with my children as a part of their education and I don't expect them to always agree with my own preferences, but I think that careful selection and consideration are important. I want their minds and hearts to be nourished by what they hear. I want them to come away from listening to a recording or a concert knowing how to appreciate the true, the good and the beautiful in what has just been communicated to them. I want my children to be able to hear what the music is saying clearly, in order that they might be able to accept what is good and reject what is bad.

Perhaps this is why, when I go to turn on classical music, or when I sit down to play the piano, more often than not, I find myself reaching for something by Bach. The more I listen, the more I come to appreciate what a beautiful gift has been given by God through him. He wrote his music first and foremost for the glory of God and it shows. The music of Bach is food for the mind and for the soul. The complexity and genius which can be heard in his finely woven counterpoint, the use of harmony which stirs the heart and brings forth a longing for that which we cannot see, but we know to be True; these things give glory to God in such a beautiful way that words fall short of a proper description. What is more astounding is that Bach was able to compose in such a way, and to bring forth such beauty without ever breaking the rules of composition which were solidly in place during his time. With all his originality and genius, he never "broke the mold" and went his own way. His creativity took place within the established framework and he was able to create freely precisely because of his mastery of the rules.

There are other composers who have written music that touches souls deeply (Mozart and Beethoven immediately come to mind), but no matter how much I appreciate these other composers and acknowledge their great contributions to western classical music, my first love will always be J. S. Bach.

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