the other OTHER white josh (infinivert) wrote in 268_generation,
the other OTHER white josh
infinivert
268_generation

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Christian Songwriting questions

Hey all,

I'm teaching a songwriting class at my church, and this is a set of questions I wanted us to discuss. I was wondering what some of you might think about them. Feel free to respond to any or all of them!

  • Why did God create music? What is it’s purpose today?

  • In that light, what makes music like other art forms? What makes it different?

  • What makes a song “art”? Are all songs artistic? What separates the good from the bad?

  • What separates “Christian” music from “secular” music? Can a Christian write a “secular” song? Can a non-Christian write a “Christian” song?

  • If a Christian writes a song that doesn’t specifically relate to God or the Christian life, has he/she sinned?

  • Who determines the meaning of lyrics? The author? The listener? Both? Neither?

  • Can music have a meaning or purpose separate from the lyrics? Can instrumental music be inherently good or bad?

  • Are particular music styles/sounds good or evil? Does God have a favorite style of music?

  • What is a Christian songwriter’s function/purpose/job?

  • What do you think music in Heaven will be like?

  • What's your favorite song?


  • --Josh
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OK, I'll have a go:-

Q - Why did God create music? What is it’s purpose today?
A - I don't know why He did it, but he did, and the most wonderful thing about music that I know is that it is a universal thing and the only thing I can think of -- apart from mutual, selfless love -- which can join supposedly irreconcilable people together as one. Like KISS said, "God gave rock n' roll to you; He put it in the hearts of everyone."

Q - In that light, what makes music like other art forms? What makes it different?
A - Music is like other art forms in that there are no rules. It is unlike other artforms in its complete and utter diversity and accessibility. It is also the only art form you listen to. Any art which functions using sound waves is music.

Q - What makes a song “art”?
A - The fact it was created to express an emotion makes it art, or if it evokes even the mildest of emotion or reaction, it is also art. Some people say that art has to be intentional, but I've seen things and heard things that occured by accident and I appreciated them and they affected me, so it was art.

Q - Are all songs artistic?
A - I guess so, because they were created with emotions and feelings.

Q - What separates the good from the bad?
A - There is no such thing as bad art, just art you appreciate positively or negatively.

Q - What separates “Christian” music from “secular” music?
A - A specific intention to express one's feelings about one's religion makes it religious. If you are a Christian, it would be Christian.

Q - Can a Christian write a “secular” song? Can a non-Christian write a “Christian” song?
A - Yes. My boyfriend is a songwriter and he is a Christian, but his music is not specifically Christian themed and I don't think he's ever written a song about Jesus.

Q - If a Christian writes a song that doesn’t specifically relate to God or the Christian life, has he/she sinned?
A - Don't be daft. I made a cake the other day and I didn't think about Jesus or God once and it wasn't a sin.

Q - Who determines the meaning of lyrics? The author? The listener? Both? Neither?
A - Both. What's sent out in the singing, or the music, might be completely different to what's heard by an individual.

Q - Can music have a meaning or purpose separate from the lyrics?
A - Yes. Music is so powerful, more powerful than any other language. Example is the Manic Steert Preachers. No-one can hear a word James is singing and they have to print the lyrics on their inlay cards, yet the meaning and emotion is abundently clear from the sounds and his voice.

Q - Can instrumental music be inherently good or bad?
A - It's not the gun who commits the murder, it's the man holding the gun. You can't say art is 'good' or 'bad' in this way as this only leads to censorship and loss of the freedom to exchange ideas, which is the key to freedom.

Q - Are particular music styles/sounds good or evil?
A - Nope.

Q - Does God have a favorite style of music?
A - Yes, hard-core gansta rap. Don't be daft you nutta, God doesn't judge does he, so how can he have a favourite?

Q - What is a Christian songwriter’s function/purpose/job?
A - If he is a songwriter who happens to be a Christian, his function is to create his art as the muse leads him. If he is a Christian, his muse may be Jesus/God. If he labels himself as a Christian songwriter, he probably has set himself the function of writing music for a Christian audience and/or in order to witness using his best skill.

Q - What do you think music in Heaven will be like?
A - I have no idea what that place is like, but it's only a matter of time before we all find out.

Q - What's your favorite song?
A - About A Girl by Nirvana. The most romantic lyric ever + "I do, think you fit this shoe."

OK? Any use?
Sweet! Thank you for putting the time and thought into that! Good stuff. Let me give this a day or two to see if anybody else will respond, and then I'll throw in my two cents and we'll see where it goes!

Rock on!

Josh

PS: "daft" has gotta be one of the greatest words in the English language. Your use of that word above was definitely art!
Cool! It was my pleasure. It's much more interesting than work. I will keep an eye on the thread. And daft is a great word, especially when one is a Londoner and can give it just that right cock-er-ny drawl. Now I am leaving work early to go an watch Almost Famous. Have a lovely day! (Or should that be luv-er-ly like Elizer Doolittle would say?)
*waves*
Oh, and a non-Christian can write a Christian song. At school, we won the song competition with a song my friend wrote about Noah. She was not a Christian, she was a Hindu and thought that all Chritians were mad.
Just thought I would let you know my two cents is coming I just read it but I do not have time to reply today but I will respond tomorrow
Sweet! Looking forward to it!
OK all, I've been stewing over these questions for several weeks now (and over some of them for years), and I still don't really know exactly what I think, but here's my 2 cents, for whatever it's worth...

  • Why did God create music? What is its purpose today?

I don't pretend to know God's intentions. I do think that He created it, though, with some sort of built-in property that connects to our spirits and so reminds us that there is something far bigger and deeper going on. If we can learn to tap into that property then we can go deeper ourselves, and--hopefully--bring others with us.

  • In that light, what makes music like other art forms? What makes it different?

I'm with mrs_fry on this one. I think she nailed it.

  • What makes a song "art"? Are all songs artistic? What separates the good from the bad?

OK, I know that I wrote these questions, but really, these are unfair since they inadvertently require you to define art. I'll start there.

I would say that art is what happens when people begin to appreciate any everyday process or task for the inherent beauty or grace that it possesses beyond surface level and elevate that beauty or grace in importance above the sheer function of the process or task.

For example, cooking is a task that is fairly necessary to sustaining life, but when people begin to appreciate the beauty of various flavors and combinations of flavors as well as the grace of different cooking methods and techniques and begin to cook for the flavor and/or the method, it becomes art.

On that basis, I too would have to define all music as art, since the whole idea of music is to extract something meaningful from sound and the sense of hearing. However, I really think that a lot of songwriters miss the point and try to use music to merely elevate themselves. If music is not taken for what it is in and of itself, then it loses its power as art even if it doesn't necessarily cease to be art as such.

  • What separates "Christian" music from "secular" music? Can a Christian write a "secular" song? Can a non-Christian write a "Christian" song?

That depends on who defines it. I think that those labels are actually pretty pretentious. Only people can be Christians; songs can only be songs.

  • If a Christian writes a song that doesn't specifically relate to God or the Christian life, has he/she sinned?

Once again, this begs a definition (I apologize in advance for the mini-sermon). Sin, I believe, is not just the Sunday-School idea of breaking a written rule or being "bad." Paul says that "whatever does not proceed from faith is sin" (Rom. 14:23). Jesus was the only sinless person ever, and he said that He did nothing except what He saw His Father doing (John 5:19). Had he done something other than what the Father was doing, He would have been outside his relationship with Father, acting out of himself rather than out of faith, and that would have been sin. Jesus sent us His Holy Spirit so that we could have a relationship with God through faith rather than being doomed. So anything we do out of ourselves and our own understanding (Prov. 3:5-6) rather than out of our relationship with God is sin.

On that basis, I believe a person could write a plain old love song or even something weird that is cryptic in meaning because of where his relationship with God is, and not be sinning. On the other hand, a person could write the greatest worship song ever, but if what God really wanted was for that person to be taking out the garbage, he sinned. If anybody writes a song for any other reason than the prompting of the Holy Spirit, he/she has sinned.

(Cont'd in next post)
  • Who determines the meaning of lyrics? The author? The listener? Both? Neither?

  • Can music have a meaning or purpose separate from the lyrics? Can instrumental music be inherently good or bad?

I'll tackle these two together.

Songs you write are kinda like kids. They will inherit some of your characteristics just because they came from you. The more of yourself you put into them, the more they will be like you, and--generally speaking--the happier you will be with them in the end. I also believe that we, as Christians, should give our songs to the Lord and ask Him to do whatever He wants with them. Perhaps the worst thing a person can do with a song (or a child, for that matter) is try to maintain too much control. Once you give birth to a song, it is what it is and you have to be OK with that. You can spend lots of time and energy refining and massaging a song before you release it into the world (I generally rewrite my lyrics at least half-a-dozen times before my first performance, and I may change them again several times before I settle on them), but if you try to squeeze it into a mold that doesn't fit, you will cripple the song and rob it of any life it might have had otherwise.

This is just my opinion, but I really don't think songs are the place to preach or teach or send a message as such. That doesn't mean at all, however, that songs cannot convey deep truth or change a person's heart. I believe music can actually be much more powerful than giving a speech or writing a thesis. It's just that songs are like poetry in that they can say a ton with very few words, and they are like myth in that they can let you experience truth rather than just telling you it. I can elaborate on this more if anybody needs it.

All of that to say, a song is it's own thing. It is neither an end, nor a means to an end. It is a song. Both the songwriter and the listener may extract any number of meanings from a song, but neither of them give meaning to it. Words mean nothing apart from the definitions we have given them, but--as mrs_fry pointed out before--music itself seems to have meaning on its own, but that meaning seems to be more connected to emotions than ideas. I think that's because you experience music rather than just observing it, which allows different people at different times in different parts of the world to have a common experience.

  • Are particular music styles/sounds good or evil? Does God have a favorite style of music?

Daft. I love that word!

Certain styles/sounds are festive, others are melancholy; some are peaceful, others are angry; some draw from the deep places of our souls, others skim the surface; none of them are good or evil. God created us to experience all parts of life abundantly, and He is there with us through all of them--neither afraid nor offended by our emotions. Just remember that fruit grows when you abide in Him, not in music. So if you're looking for songs to bring you love, joy, peace, etc., you're looking in the wrong place. If you think that God doesn't like songs that convey anger, fear, sadness, etc., then you need to read through the Psalms of David and figure out why some of them have been included in the Bible.

  • What is a Christian songwriter's function/purpose/job?

Well, Saint Irenaeus said "The Glory of God is man fully alive," and I doubt that anybody would argue that we were created to glorify God. So I would say that all Christians should pursue and hold fast to the Giver of Life with all we have, and fight off anything that opposes that life so that streams of living water might flow out of us. If we are called to be songwriters, then our songs are part of those streams, and they should also be full of that life.

(Cont'd in next post... again!)
  • What do you think music in Heaven will be like?

I can't even imagine, but I can't wait to find out! I really believe that everything we have on this earth that is good is only a shadow on the cave wall compared to the reality of what we will experience then. I mean, right now the range of our hearing only spans a tiny piece of the spectrum of sound, and sound is just one form of energy which--according to Einstein--is the exact same thing as matter moving really, really fast. God created time, and if we could step outside of time with Him, not only would music no longer be bound by meter and rhythm, but light and heat and sound and gasses and liquids and solids would all be parts of the symphony along with whatever other mysteries God has out there that we know nothing about... ahh! Wow! I can't wait!!!!

  • What's your favorite song?


I have more than a dozen favorite songs, but topping the list at the moment are "Sorry" by Five O'Clock People, "Inconsolable" by Jonatha Brooke, "Wait" by Shaded Red, "Porcelain" by Moby, "Amen" by David Ruiz, "True Love Ways" by Buddy Holly, "Cold Shot" by Stevie Ray Vaughan, "Deliver Me" by David Crowder, "Here With Me" by Plumb, "Let that be Enough" by Switchfoot, "Wait Forever" by Chasing Furies, and "The Last Blueshift" by Glisten.

--Josh