On liking music

One way or another, it's back to school month. And one way or another, it's back to music studies for many families. So you'll see a couple posts this month with thoughts on music education. Here's the first serving, something I posted a long time ago about music appreciation.

I think about the music I liked between the ages of 11 and 14. It was hard to discern then if I liked something cause it was trendy or if I liked it for itself. Here's what I think now as a practitioner, teacher, and consumer of this wonderful art.

1) Music is art, so it should be appreciated like art.

We should learn to appreciate the skill and discovery inherent in excellent music. As in poetry or paintings, the excellence of music might not cling quickly to the listener. Learning to appreciate excellent music will take time, but once we can, we will be empowered to tap into the centuries of music that has gone before us.

2) Music is expression, so we shouldn't be snobby about it.

A distinction is made between serious music (which includes classical) and folk music. By folk, I don't mean the narrow indy category people usually mean. I mean, "the people's music," from nursery songs to hymns to Top 40. Folk music is not as fully composed and ultimately not as brilliant as the serious stuff, but we identify with it more readily. We share it by singing it, playing it on the guitar, dancing to it, giving it to a friend. It's essential to the human experience, and we don't need to shun it. There's van Gogh and da Vinci - but it's okay to beautify the house with chalk art. There's Keats and Donne - but it's okay to quote a moralistic couplet to your kid. And there's Bach and Beethoven - but it's okay to like simpler music that's just good fun.

3) We should recognize the spiritual power of music when it includes words.

Art is skill infused by the expression of one's soul, and that is clearest when art uses words. The word is charged with truth value. We shouldn't lightly listen to lyrical music. Perhaps this relates to why listening to Christian music is a surprising indicator of whether an adolescent will profess faith as an adult.

4) We should like music because we like it.

Keeping in mind that some music takes time to appreciate, we still shouldn't kid ourselves about our tastes. I don't know how many times, as a young'n, I listened to certain albums just because they were there and they were popular. Now I see that I only liked one or two songs on many of those records. But there were other albums I listened to again and again and again because I loved them.

Between the ages of 10 and 12 my most loved albums were Take Me to Your Leader by the Newsboys and Switchfoot's The Legend of Chin. I don't listen to the Newsboys or Switchfoot's newest albums today, but the energy in their early music resonated with the energy I felt. It was good for my musical development to soak it in.

I played "Breakfast" by the Newsboys for a piano recital at age, oh, eleven? Yeah, I was the brunette in the pink floral dress pounding away power chords and octaves for the captivated captive audience. The chorus used a 3-against-2 rhythmic pattern that wasn't going to show up in my John Thompson piano course anytime soon. Internalizing the syncopated rhythm and chord progression helped make me a bolder musician. I didn't know that at the time - I just loved banging on the song.

Today I am picky about what I listen to. I could give some reasons why, but in the end I'd basically be saying, "I don't like the music because I don't like it." You might like it, and that's all right.

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