The Music You Choose
Helpful facts that young people want to know
MUSIC is a natural part of human life. Among the earliest sounds many of us heard was music, in a mother’s lullaby.
Man’s Creator, in fact, built music into human surroundings. Not just the clear, flowing tones that spring from the throats of birds, but the gurgle of brooks, the whisper or wail of the wind in the trees, the chirp of crickets, the croak of frogs and the calls, cries and whistles of many others of earth’s creatures—all of these have a musical sound to them. Not surprisingly, then, the development of musical instruments dates all the way back to the dawn of human history.—Gen. 4:21.
Does that mean that all music is necessarily good? Or do you need to be selective as to the music you listen to? What can help us to determine? How much does it really matter?
One thing is sure—there is tremendous variety. Aside from so-called “serious” or classical music and operas, there is a wide range of semiclassical music, and every land has its own folk music, country songs and marches. Music for dancing goes from graceful waltzes to lively polkas; there are Latin-American congas, rumbas, and Brazilian sambas, also merengues, beguines and bossa novas, many of these having an African background. Particularly since World War I, highly syncopated instrumental and vocal music—jazz, blues, swing and rock have become popular. In some music, melody and harmony stand out; other kinds emphasize beat and rhythm.
So there is much to choose from. What do you prefer? Is there need for care?
THE NEED FOR CARE IN CHOOSING
Care and thought are necessary. Why? Because music has power. And like any other power it can serve for good or for harm.
Where does music’s power come from? From its ability to induce a certain feeling, mood or spirit in people. Music can relax and soothe, or refresh and enliven. (Note the effect that David’s music had on King Saul. [1 Sam. 16:23]) You can almost “feel” the difference between a vigorous march and a soft serenade. Music can stir every human emotion—love, tenderness, reverence, sadness, anger, hatred and passion. Throughout history men have recognized music’s power and have used it to move people in certain ways.
In the Bible the heart is closely associated with emotions and motivation. The Bible shows that the key to our conduct is found in the heart. (Prov. 4:23; Matt. 15:18, 19) Since music’s emotional power is a fact, our guarding our hearts requires being selective about the music we choose.
Music is a gift from God for our enjoyment, true, but it is the way a gift is used that determines its value to the user, as well as his appreciation to the giver. Speech, too, is a gift from God, and people can use their voices to speak in a pleasant, melodious way that makes life more enjoyable for those around them, saying things that are helpful and beneficial. But what if they use their voices for loud screaming and shrieking, for raucous shouting and bellowing? Or, even if they make their voices soft and sweet, what if they use them for lying or for encouraging others to commit wrongs? Do you enjoy voices that are used in that way? Would you like as your neighbors people who use their voices that way? Well, have you ever heard music that has similar effects?
Yes, a fact we should face is that music is a form of communication, between the composer or performer and the listener. Not just feelings are communicated; ideas are also. After all, songs are simply speech set to music, the music often helping the words (or lyrics) to penetrate more readily into the mind and heart. Some may say they pay no attention to the words of a song, that they just enjoy the music. But even without conscious attention the words are nonetheless heard, and their effect, though slow or subtle, still is there. People who set radio and television commercials to music know this, and you probably have found the words and music of some of these commercials running through your mind long after you heard them. So, the question is, What does the music you choose communicate to you?
Music is often the medium or vehicle for spreading philosophies, political ideologies, nationalism, religious beliefs and a host of other things. Part of the triumph of the French Revolution is frequently attributed to what one writer calls “the blood-curdling call to arms” of the song La Marseillaise. Colleges and schools usually have their “fight songs” used before athletic contests. The heavy, mystic tone in the music of certain religions fits their doctrines.
True, music’s moving effect is only temporary. But it is often long enough to give a decided push in a certain direction, or to lower resistance to a certain attraction or temptation. If you studied chemistry in school you learned about “catalysts.” You learned that the combining of two or more chemicals can often be achieved only by using some other ingredient that, in effect, brings the chemicals together. That ingredient is a “catalyst.” Now, we all have certain weaknesses and wrong inclinations, and so we feel tempted at times to do certain things that are wrong. Suppose circumstances come up that encourage you to do a wrong act. Music can be the “catalyst” that will cause desire and circumstances to combine—resulting in something you may afterward seriously regret. On the basis of her studies, one researcher for a government commission studying pornography said:
“Music, by playing on girls’ emotions to arouse love and affection, frequently serves as a catalyst for love and thereby a stimulus for sexual arousal in the adolescent female. . . . The music surfaces this feeling.”—Denver Post, July 23, 1971.
Yes, the impulse that music supplies, though temporary, may be all that is needed to trigger you into a course or way of life that is itself long lasting or that produces results that are. So, is it not worth your while to use discernment where music is involved?
THE PROBLEM OF DECIDING
Actually, no one can provide you with a list that immediately identifies what music is good and what is bad. The reason is that among all the kinds of music mentioned there is none that can be stamped as “all good” or “all bad.” You have to use your mind and heart for discerning their individual value, guided by principles such as those already considered. And your choice tells others something of the kind of person you are.
“Does not the ear itself test out words as the palate tastes food?” asked Job long ago. (Job 12:11) So, too, your ear can test out music. Even without the words, you can often tell what kind of mood or spirit a piece is designed to produce, what kind of conduct it encourages. That was the case with the music that Moses heard on coming down from Mount Sinai and approaching the Israelite camp. As he said to Joshua: “It is not the sound of the singing over mighty performance [a victory song], and it is not the sound of the singing of defeat [a mournful singing]; it is the sound of other singing that I am hearing.” The singing actually reflected wild and idolatrous immoral activity.—Ex. 32:15-19, 25.
Consider more recent examples. Classical music, for instance, generally has a dignified, sometimes majestic sound. But while much of it may have a rather noble effect on one’s thoughts, some of it deals with and even glorifies the sordid or selfish side of life. It is worth remembering that many famous classical composers lived immoral, even dissolute, lives. And though they generally wrote for an audience that supposedly appreciated the ‘finer things of life,’ it is almost unavoidable that some of their warped outlook and warped emotions would filter into their music, with or without words. So, if we want to guard the health of our minds and hearts, even so-called “serious” music cannot be taken too seriously or be accepted without question.
At the other end of the musical spectrum from classical compositions we find the syncopated jazz and rock music. Even here one finds some music that is melodic and moderate. But much of it is wild and strident. That is why musicians themselves distinguish between jazz and rock music that is “soft” and that which is “hot,” “hard” or “acid.” You should be able to tell what kind of conduct the music is promoting—your ear, your mind and heart should tell you. The words or the tone of certain music is sometimes so obvious that people easily associate it with certain types of conduct or kinds of persons. The Bible, for example, speaks of the “songs of drinkers” and the “song of a prostitute.” (Ps. 69:12; Isa. 23:15, 16) What about today?
If, for example, you read in the newspaper about a music concert or festival and the report tells of people screaming, girls fainting, the use of drugs and of the police having to be brought in to keep the theater from being wrecked—what kind of music would you think was involved in the performance? If you hear of a popular young singer or musician dying of an overdose of drugs—what kind of music would you think he or she specialized in?
As the book The Psychology of Music points out, ‘any monotonous, lengthy rhythmic sound produces various stages of trance.’ Much rock music is distinctive by its dull, steady, heavy, throbbing or pulsating sound. It has a mind-deadening beat. Its relentless, steady pounding reminds one of a person who keeps repeating something insistently over and over again until he convinces others to do what he wants, driving other thoughts out of their minds. Some “ultramodern” classical music specializes in strange, often discordant sounds that have a similar effect. High Fidelity Magazine quotes a divisional head of Columbia Records as saying: “The kind of receptivity needed for the new rock and the new classical are exactly the same. . . . You have to give yourself up to it and let them take your mind.”
But can you safely let your mind be ‘taken’ in that way? The World Book Encyclopedia says that, for many, “rock music symbolizes a distinct way of life.” You probably know that without being told by an encyclopedia. And you know that many young people are drawn to rock music because they believe that its lyrics “describe the realities and problems of the world around them.” Perhaps more than any other form of popular music, rock music tries to put across a message: on the problems of growing up, the generation gap, drugs, sex, civil rights, dissent, poverty, war and similar topics. It tries to express many “young people’s ideas for a better world and youthful discontent with social injustices.” But what is its effect?
Stop and ask yourself: In the nearly twenty years since rock music came prominently on the scene (in the early 1950’s), what has it done for young people? What real solutions have its philosophies brought them? Do its messages really present any clear, unified solution, or are they as confused and mixed up as are the world’s religious sects, some songs advocating violence and others the opposite? Do the personal lives of its composers and performers show that—aside from making money—they themselves have found the solution to life’s problems? Does it really present something new, or are not such things as sexual looseness, disrespect for authority, flight from responsibility, the use of drugs, things that have a very old history—a history that is never one of success but, sooner or later, of failure?
If such music is designed to bring realities into focus, why is so much of it drug oriented—some lyrics being understandable only to those who take drugs? Rather than help young people to understand life, is it not perhaps an appeal to childish tendencies to seek to escape responsibility?
So, your choice of music is no light matter. You can let others decide for you simply by going along with the crowd, choosing what is popular, what has mass appeal. Or you can think for yourself and use care in selecting, guided by the enduring and superior wisdom found in God’s Word. (Prov. 14:15) Ecclesiastes 7:5 says: “Better is it to hear the rebuke of someone wise than to be the man hearing the song of the stupid ones.” The “stupidity” the Bible talks about is not mere mental dumbness but means moral stupidity, following a course that can only bring future trouble. Your choice of music is a question, then, of whether you are simply interested in a “good time” or in a good life, an everlasting one in God’s favor.
Consider, too, that your choice has an effect on others. You may feel that you can listen to music containing some words that go contrary to what is true and right or that has a sensual, wild sound to it, and still not be affected. But what kind of influence are you to others? Do you feel as the apostle Paul, who said that he was willing to forgo even such proper things as eating meat if thereby he could avoid becoming a stumbling block to others? (1 Cor. 8:9-13; Rom. 14:13, 21; 15:2) With what kind of persons does the music you choose identify you?
There are songs that form part of the true worship of the Source of the gift of music, Jehovah God. True, we are not required to sing or to listen only to such music. Yet we need to remember always that the day is coming when the only ones living on earth will be those who sing Jehovah God’s praise. (Ps. 148:12, 13; 150:1-6) Wisely, then, choose music that will not lead your mind or heart away from that goal.