Music is the language of the soul. J.R.R. Tolkien’s and C.S. Lewis’ narratives describe creation being sung into being. The scriptures tell us about choirs of angels, playing on the lute and harp, singing and dancing. The liturgy itself is woven with melodies and harmonies to focus our attention on the Divine. Sadly, the Devil knows this and he often sows discord and disharmony into our music—thus we find ourselves listening to trashy modern day hip hop, bad rock n’roll, techno, and something I refuse to call music—dubstep.
Let me be clear, I enjoy hip hop, rock n’ roll, and even some techno—I am not so uptight as to deny any merit in some of these musical genres. But, let’s be honest, the good stuff is hard to find. Lyrics are fraught with explicit sexual content, rude language, anger, and even violence. Music without lyrics can also contain all of these things—certain notes, chords, compositions all convey emotions of the composer. Listen to any Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, or Wagner and try to argue otherwise.
I used to absolutely hate country music. I have recently discovered that what I hate is not actually country music, but modern country pop. This type of country, from my experience, must include the following: something about a truck, girls in jeans, alcohol, and tailgating. Real country and bluegrass music is heartfelt, heart-wrenching, joyful, funny, and often quite beautiful. Unfortunately, this genre seems to be dying out in the world of pop culture. However, living in Tennessee (the home of country greats like Dolly Parton and Roy Acuff) I have had the privilege to recently hear several young musicians reviving this traditional American music.
These musicians are clearly not after fame and fortune—they play in small venues, often times in churches, and I can tell you they don’t make very much money. But it has been a long time since I have seen or heard such soul and heart put into music. The lyrics are full of childhood memories, true love stories, joyful humor, sometimes tragedy, and sometimes triumph—what really good stories are made of. You can see it in their faces as they raise their voices to the heavens, harmonizing with their fellow band members with ease (true musicianship at its best). You can feel the energy in the banjo, bass, and guitar players’ fingers—music that lifts the spirit. You can’t help but clap your hands and tap your feet, or sometimes cry. Isn’t this what all music should do? Move the heart? I’m a musician myself, and there is nothing so wonderful as making beautiful music. In fact, my choir had the privilege of performing a concert with a really great bluegrass band and it was one of our most attended concerts!
Like good literature, we need to immerse ourselves in good music. Isn’t the Mass made more beautiful when there is good music? Isn’t life made more wonderful when there is a melodious soundtrack? If we are truly brought into being musically, as I believe, and as I think Tolkien and Lewis believed, then music can affect us in deeper ways than we can fully understand. So let’s help revive good music by choosing to listen to good musicians and rejecting the sensual, violent, and chaotic nature of modern pop music. You may have to dig into your parent’s or even your grandparent’s old record collections to find the good stuff, but it’s there, I promise you. And a little Google searching and support for some of these up and coming country/bluegrass bands will help too.