First let us look at some definitions:
1.a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
2.a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.
6.something one believes in and follows devotedly; a point or matter of ethics or conscience: to make a religion of fighting prejudice.
1.of, pertaining to, or consisting of spirit; incorporeal.
2.of or pertaining to the spirit or soul, as distinguished from the physical nature: a spiritual approach to life.
7.of or pertaining to sacred things or matters; religious; devotional; sacred.
9.of or relating to the mind or intellect.
Very good references:
Sacred Song in America (really I wish I simply typed the first few real pages (not the intro) and had that as my entry- but that would be slightly illegal. Really, he says what I want to say in a much more eloquent and intellectual way. That could be due to the fact he wrote a book on the issue and I'm simply typing a blog entry.)
Memory, Music, and Religion (In case anyone wants to buy me a book.)
The Valve- A Literary Organ (This is, shall I say, interesting.)
So, after reading those definitions is the statement, "Music is my Religion" a plausible statement? Perhaps. However, music is not my religion and, in all honesty, I simply didn't want to entitle my entry Music and Religion.
Growing up as the organist's daughter in Trinity United Methodist Church (Chesterfield, VA), I was always exposed to the church with a focus on music. My Mother is much more than the organist- she is the director of music and conducts two bell choirs, started a chime choir, conducts two baby choirs, one children's choir, one youth choir, and the adult choir. She decided to produce two plays per choir, a talent/variety show and dinner, a cantata, and an Easter drama per year. And she also prepares the youth choir for "Youth Jam" and prepares both the youth and adult bell choir for bell festivals every year. (Yes, I just realized I get the "I need to be busy all of the time" or "I take on way too much" syndrome from my Mom.)
My experience with music in the church is deeply engrained in me, however it is also very broad. I believe a few things must be considered when exploring this topic: (1) Personal experience (2) Restrictions found in various religions regarding music (3) Music in different religions (world religions and various denominations) (4) The dichotomy (or lack thereof) between music and religion
Personal Experience with Music and Religion: Background
Since I grew up always attending the bell rehearsals, choir rehearsals, and hearing my Mom plan the services according to the scripture etc. I always thought about the music and how it enhanced the service. Also, it was later pointed out to me, that each piece or musical section in the service had a purpose. However, there were times where I felt more spiritual holding hands with my church family and singing our closing song than at any other point in the service. My first great conflict regarding music and religion came with the sweep of popular music in worship. And then, the struggle I had with music and religion stemmed from the realization that whatever had been taught to me as “the correct way to do things or believe” could, in fact, be wrong.
I grew up in a traditional service with traditional hymns (mixed, as I mentioned beforehand, with gospel, minimal pop, and other genres). However, ultimately, I grew up in a traditional church. When the sweep of pop music and praise bands came my way, I was quite rebellious against the movement (even though I was a pre-teen). My church eventually created two different services, however I felt it split our church family. In one church meeting discussing the split, a woman told my Mother that “the service isn’t just about the music”. However, the irony (to me) was the fact that the music was the only thing that was different between the two services. (Other than that, the other service was much earlier and a lot of parents wanted to go to that so they could take the rest of the day off or go to soccer games etc.) Thus began my research into music and the church.
I attended some praise band and contemporary worship events at other churches and my school (honestly, a guy who liked me (and the attraction was mutual) was really into the contemporary worship service at 7 a.m. every Wed. morning at my school- so I attended). Aside from trying to score brownie points (not with god, with the guy), I was trying to be open minded about the music as well. Yes, the music was uplifting and catchy but I realized the music wasn’t complex harmonically. It followed more pop like sequences and melodic patterns and used, what I called, “feel good chords”. At the time I wanted to write a thesis paper (it would have been crap, but written with a lot of passion) on worship music that incorporated pop culture so as to refrain from intimidating people with strong cadences and complex harmonies. Although I had viable points about the attraction this genre of worship music had, ultimately I accepted the fact that different people like different things.
Since I grew up with the traditional hymns and I was more inclined to liking classical music (I didn’t truly listen to pop until middle school) the traditional church music was more comfortable for me. Why was it that gospel, a type of song that could be considered sinful, was acceptable in my eyes (or ears) but I refused to acknowledge the idea of a pop/rock song in the church? Of course, as I noted beforehand, experience and environment shape our belief systems. Later on, hopefully, our reasoning refines those belief systems but there are still fragments left of what we learned from either our parents, school, society etc. This soon led me to the next issue within this topic which is the conflict that is found within various religions regarding music and the various genres of music that are deemed acceptable.
Music Restrictions found in Religion
When I received news that my Father was passing I had to fly out of the local airport and while I was waiting on my plane to arrive I was literally bawling. This young man came out of nowhere, a bandage on his eye, and he asked me if he could talk with me. He told me that he was waiting on the same plane and if we talked I couldn’t tell anyone because he was on probation at Bob Jones University. I hesitantly, but ultimately gladly, welcomed the distraction and we started in on a huge conversation about religion, the bible, and music in the church. He told me why he was on probation (he played a video game that included cartoon characters fighting- violence is not allowed in any game- or so he told me) and he proceeded to list off the rules found at BJU. When he described the rules regarding music, I argued that there were “sinful” chords found in some classical music and the earlier churches would have disagreed with some of the things to which he was allowed to listen at BJU. I also argued that some of the hymns we have in our hymnal were considered too modern and sinful as well- and so our conversation went on and on. (I’m sure we annoyed everyone trying to sleep on the plane.)
After that conversation I was left wondering the following; To what degree was the music we use in worship now shunned in earlier church systems? And, if I could, I would like to track the progression of music in not only the church, but other world religions as well. Is this type of restriction found in other religions? Are world religions less likely to popularize their sacred music? I can’t really say much to answer these questions. It would require much more research and conversation, but I can tell you about music in Islamic services.
Music in Different Religions
I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to travel to mainly Islamic areas and I found that, within Islam, there is not a choir or hymn singing (or praise bands). However, there is a call to prayer and the typical Friday service included prayers, recitations, and a speech. Interestingly enough the call to prayer and Koranic recitation involves certain techniques and have musical qualities to them. (Many people say that there is nothing more beautiful, whether or not you believe in the words, than the Koran recited in Arabic. Perhaps it is similar to the beauty and fluidity found in Islamic calligraphy captured aurally.)
Cultures where there is absolutely no dichotomy between music and religion
There are some who argue that there is absolutely no separation between music and religion- is music a religion, a form of prayer, a form of worship?
Ultimately, everybody finds their own peace in different ways. Some people feel that their personal spirituality and solace is derived from readings, personal prayer, or other forms of ‘worship’ regardless of religion or religious beliefs. Whereas, some find that their prayer or worship takes on the form of music.
Overall, there is a wide spectrum of information and opinion regarding the topic of music and religion. Regardless of your belief system, I hope you experience an instance when music enables you to reach a moment where you have an acute awareness of your being and complete disregard for anything aside from the rush of emotion at that single point in time.