Our first article made positive suggestions for our personal use of music. “Good music” can have such benefits as
refreshment, mental stimulation or relaxation. The purpose of this second article is to make suggestions about how we can enjoy classical music and how we can create a positive musical environment for our families to grow up in.

What can we do? Our Bible is unquestionably the ultimate authority in morality. But what can be done to ensure that those virtues which it inculcates are not eroded by modern forms of music which have been demonstrated to be harmful both physically and morally? How then can we use music to create a good healthy moral environment for our families? Here are five ideas.

 1 Family Unity and Moral Strength Through Shared Musical Experience

 There were times in the past when the piano was a centre of attention in the home. Of course it can still be a means of bringing people together. Many Christadelphian families have pianos because we value our hymns and love to have our children learn to play them. How many Christadelphian children have started off very young in life playing “meetings” which always included “singing” several hymns, often from upside down hymn books! We smile—but let us encourage this innocent love of singing together and keep it up as our children grow older. Never let them get to the stage of being selfconscious about singing with others. It is delightful and thoroughly wholesome. How it must please the heart of our heavenly Father! (Psa 147:1)

We need to sing together as families. Spiritual songs, children’s songs, hymns and anthems can all be used. Families that do this join together and interact musically in ways that do not happen with other activities. It is an important activity for family bonding and love. The Psalms were designed to be sung.

Singing the cantata “Under the Palms” has been an old favourite. It tells the story of the feast of Tabernacles in forty eight songs. It is easy to play and sing and full of lovely pictures of Jewish longing. There are joyful marching kind of parts, such as “We are marching home to Zion”; prayers such as “Neath the palm’s protecting shade, let our grateful vows be made”; as well as lively happy songs of deliverance, such as “Come, let us rejoice”.

Families that listen to good music together share a common appreciation of the music, features of which can be explained as the performance proceeds.

Music lessons which encourage parental involvement are another excellent way of sharing musical experiences. One example is the Suzuki method which stresses the need for a parent to share the lesson and practise with the child. This has a double benefit—a bonding experience for the family and a focus upon the importance of good music in life. Don’t wait for the music teacher to make the suggestion—be involved and interested in your child’s lessons.

 2 Music Which Channels Emotions in a Positive Direction

 Shun the mediocrity of popular music. Choose music that inspires to greatness and promotes positive emotional responses to real life. We need music which will focus on higher goals and aspirations. Popular music encourages what our society promotes—instant gratification, followed so often by frustration and depression. Feelings and goals need to be channelled beyond this. Music conveys messages to our brains so we need to ensure that the message, either through the words or music, is wholesome. The music itself must be inspirational or promote positive emotional responses to real life situations. There is a great chasm between the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah and a rock song.

The conductor of an orchestra is an epitome of positive emotional releases of strength, striving, compassion, love and gentleness. Each player in the orchestra is concentrating intently—keeping in time with his fellow players and following implicitly the conductor’s interpretation of the music. It is all very disciplined. At the end of the performance, the enjoyment of creating a musical tapestry is exhilarating. It has been a co-operative experience between the conductor and the players. Everyone is stimulated. They have all been in harmony wit each other. Are there not positive lessons to be gained from this by all of us?

The Greek New Testament uses the word “sumphoneo” (we can easily see our word “symphony” here) to convey the idea of agreement, of oneness of mind. The father who rejoiced to have his prodigal son return called for “music (sumphonia) and dancing (Luke 15:25). Only the elder son who could not bring himself to share his father’s pleasure found fault with the sound of the music. He was out of harmony with the spirit of joy at the return of his brother that had been lost. Music is a spontaneous response to joy. What a contrast there is between this and a “rock” musician who appears to be out of control and often violent .

3 Music That Inspires Character

 Certain types of music tend to bring a sense of order, proportion, balance and harmony which is important for physical and mental health. It helps create inspiring mental images. Not surprisingly, classical, baroque music, folk/national music and religious music are particularly good for this. It is easy to hear the order, proportion, harmony and balance in works by Mozart, Beethoven, Handel, Bach and others. In fact there is evidence that works by these composers can be effective in increasing one’s learning potential and IQ.

4 Music That Has Stood The Test of Time

 Some kinds of music have a “timeless quality”. The test of time is the test of endurance and test of quality. Choose to expose your children to uplifting classics whenever possible. It contains a quality inherent in the music which transcends the social climate in which the music was composed. “The Four Seasons” by Vivaldi was composed in the mid-1600s, known as the Baroque era. Its popularity is still high today. It is used for example by Telstra as “on hold” music for Government Departments. They obviously recognise its value in keeping the waiting client relaxed and patient! It is excellent background music for Bible study.

5 Music That Tells A Story

 We all acknowledge that reading is a necessary part of everyday life and we are careful to put before our children from a young age books that are suitable for character development as well as enjoyment. The same should apply to music. Help your children to deal with the real world through music that gives them real perspectives on how things work in the world. When music tells a story, it engages our imagination. It adds dimension and perspective. It helps our minds to have more order and balance and less chaos.

For example the best known section of Smetana’s, Ma Vlast (My Country) is The Moldau. It depicts the course of the Vltava river, beginning from two small springs, the joining of both streams into one, then the flow of the river through forests, across meadows, through the countryside where happy festivals are being celebrated; scenes by the light of the moon, on nearby cliffs are seen, proud castles and mansions, the Vltava swirls and flows into a broad stream to Prague until it disappears into the distance as it flows majestically into the Elbe.

Our generation has been described as “a nonnarrative” generation. Rock music, in common with modern film making techniques, has been described as “a montage”: a rapid sequence of loosely connected images. It is about the flow of experience, not about making sense out of experience. In classical music, this montage of ebb and flow gives way to a clear structure—a beginning, middle and an end. Structured and not at all boring.

For instance, the arresting nature of the opening bar of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony commences an enormously powerful and concentrated movement with an astonishing variety of musical ideas based upon a simple rhythm, short-short-short-long. The noble, moderately slow second movement contains two intertwined themes which build to a crescendo with full orchestra. The brisk third movement containing a rhythmic repetition of the theme of the first movement builds tension towards the climax of a sudden crescendo. Then there are the distinctive closing themes of the fourth movement where the march-like movements are given prominence by brass instruments. The extended finale hears earlier themes altered and quickened. The music keeps going even though the listener thinks it is coming to an end. Surely we see in this an echo of the great Divine themes which permeate the scriptures. We know the end is near—we concentrate intensely expecting our Lord to come at any time. We know the signs. And when he comes, all will be resolved. Teach this to your family and they will love you and look forward to our Lord’s return with even greater expectation.

Verdi’s Nabucco, the Italian name for Nebuchadnezzar, contains the “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves”. When it was first performed in Milan in 1842 the Italian audience saw in the plight of the Israelites echoes of their own situation under Austrian domination. At Verdi’s funeral in 1901 a huge throng burst into the song that had come to symbolise Italian freedom, “Va, pensiero”.

Music for the Brain and Healing

 David’s use of music with Saul should be enough to make us realise that music can be used to heal. Music Therapy groups use music for helping people overcome trauma and cope with pain. The therapeutic effects of music are easily understood when we realise that the rhythm of music is analogous to our body rhythms (ever had a “throbbing headache”?) The effects are all in the brain which has control of our organs and body parts.

Music has been shown to assist mental thought processes, a feature which is exploited by the advertising industry. An American organisation (Super Learning Inc) uses music to enhance the learning of children. What do they use? It is no surprise to find that they specialise in Baroque music and Mozart. Classical music can enhance the intellect, learning, memory and health.

Musical Therapy

 The following items are a sample only of what may be described as musical therapy. Try them for yourself. Musical Sedatives: Saint-Saens’ The Swan; Brahms’ Lullaby; Debussy’s Claire de Lune; Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Musical Tonics: Bizet’s Toreador’s Song; Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in E minor; Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony (third movement). Reassuring Compositions: Brahms’s intermezzo in E flat; Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata; Chopin’s First Piano Concerto (second movement). Relieving Serious Headaches: Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No 1; Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffman; Beethoven’s Fidelio.

More Helps

  • As I type this article I am listening to a CD entitled Reflections. It is the second CD in a series—“In Classical Mood”. It is one of a series of twenty four disks each of which has a particular “mood”—Music for a Summer Evening, Reflections and so on. Each disk is supplied with sheets for a loose leaf folder (supplied) which give information on composers musical terms, musical instruments, musical periods. We all need music to suit our mood (see Solomon’s comment in Prov 25:20), or perhaps to lift our spirits.
  • Music—An Appreciation” (Roger Kamien) is a textbook now used in many private secondary colleges. It “was written to heighten the reader’s love of music as well as to develop their listening skills”.

Building a Collection of Recorded Music

 Of making many books there is no end” (Ecc 12:12)—surely with music too the variety is endless. Building a library of recorded music is a step by step process. There will be some highly subjective factors such as your own personal taste. Here are some suggestions.

Holst: The Planets; Dvorak: From the New World. Homesick for his native Czechoslovakia he wrote this ninth symphony as music sent there while he lived in America—”the new world”; Elgar: Pomp and Circumstance, Enigma Variations —a musical description of thirteen of Elgar’s friends—enigmatically of course; Mozart: Clarinet Concerto; Concerto for Flute and Harp; Grieg: Peer Gynt Suite, Holberg Suite; Smetana, Ma Vlast (My Country— see earlier); Handel: Water Music, Messiah, Israel in Egypt; Mendelssohn: Hebrides Overture, Elijah; Schubert: The Trout Quintet —a happy piece. Contemporary composers sometimes present collections of melodies such as George Winston, December, Winter into Spring; or Satie: Gymnopedies and Gnossiennes—series of solo piano works which unfold very simple melodies.

No list would be complete without the Grand Organ, and no work is more lively and stirring than the Toccata from Widor’s Symphony for Organ No 5.

Conclusion

 We have endeavoured to set out the benefits of “good music”. The term “classical” is generic of the music which has endured from the various musical periods—baroque, classical, romantic and twentieth century. Remember that there is harmful music which takes away your life energy and there is healthful music which enhances life and can be helpful. The only source of enduring life is the Bible. We are surrounded by music in our society. When in the quietness of our own homes, let us resolve to build a positive musical environment— music which is ennobling, calming or envigorating. We have the choice and may we all choose wisely.