Trying not to blog down

OK, it’s a bad pun.

I’m the “faith integration mentor” for the School of Music at Azusa Pacific University, but I also teach music theory (lower and upper division, a little of each), composition, commercial music and music technology.

I have several problems to solve in this role:

1) How to do faith integration in music myself!

2) How to help my fellow music faculty navigate the institutional pressures to do this in some recognizable way while retaining their own personal integrity and professionalism in teaching.

3) How to communicate to faculty from other disciplines that, for the most part, approaches to faith/learning integration they’ve used won’t work as well in music, or will work to music’s detriment.

Along the way, some related issues arise:

What IS faith integration in music? Is this any different than the use of music as an evangelistic tool? Or is it just a theology of music?

There seem to be lots of people who are willing to say what faith integration is NOT, but aren’t willing to say just what it IS. Why is this?

I think the answer is pretty clear: they don’t know. Neither do I. Nevertheless, I am personally determined to discover or develop some better understandings of faith integration in music. My standards for “better understanding” in this case:

1) There is a way to apply it (the “better understanding”) to teaching music (especially instrumental music, music theory, and choral music with non-religious text) that makes the experience more musical, not less.

2) The departure from norms of teaching these things (which do not include “faith integration” as understood in non-musical disciplines, or we wouldn’t be having this discussion) is not “pro forma” or an obvious “add on”, just to say we did it.

To me, the whole notion of integration implies a new wholeness that comes about as a result of multiple inputs. It is not a synonym for mixture, blend, or combination. Integration implies a mutual interactivity, more like the issue of multiple streams of genetic influence than chemical mixture (although a close analogy might be chemical compounds with notably different properties than any of the constituent elements). Who could have predicted salt from knowing the properties of chlorine and sodium? However, working backwards from understanding the crystalline structure and properties of salt, we do have a better chance of understanding some aspects of the two elements.

Ideally, a successful integration of faith and music will be like that. It will help us to know things about music and things about faith that we don’t know without the integration, or don’t understand as well.

Having said all this, I’m very uncomfortable with this language of “theories”, and “knowing”, and “understanding”. I think both faith and music exist as integrations in and of themselves, in ways that are analogous to one another, but quite different, of course. One way they’re similar is that neither is fundamentally about “knowing”, “understanding” or “theory”, though elements of these things exist in both, of course. Nevertheless, if the only way we can express their integration is in the language of “knowing”, “understanding” or “theory”, we have settled for the most shallow expressions of both faith and music as being demonstrative of the integration we seek…. surely a disappointing outcome.

I hear someone in the background chorus (life as Greek tragedy) shouting, “But there are different ways of knowing, and you’re assuming the most narrow way!”

Sadly, it is precisely, and only, that narrow way of knowing that can be verbalized or appear in print. Integration of the sort we are discussing happens only within a person. It cannot happen in mere content which is accessible to anyone who can read and has a general education.

Some problems with which to grapple:

Is it possible for music to inform faith, or only vice versa? (Again, we aren’t talking about lyrics, we’re talking about music. ) Interesting link on theology and the arts (not necessarily the same thing as “faith integration”).

If so, how?

If so, should music be limited only to that which does inform or support faith?

Is music primarily a tool to be used in the service of faith? Or is it something more?

If it is something more, how do we let it be what it can be, without making an idol of it?

There are lots more questions, of course… but at the moment my head hurts. I’m going to go listen to some cool jazz. I have it on good authority from a young friend that Jesus played the electric bass… which sounds unlikely to me, but since the scriptures are silent on this point, I really can’t argue it. (When the rocks cry out, who needs an amp?)

2 thoughts on “Trying not to blog down

  1. You certainly raise an interesting point Dr. Shackleton. For many Christians, music and lyrics are inseparable. We grow up in churches and congregations where our only encounters with music are accompanied by lyrics. But is there anything in the music itself that defines it as Christian or worshipful?

    Here’s something else to consider. The lyrics of a worship song will always define it as Christian or worship to God, but what happens if the tempo or harmony changes? Lets say I take Chris Tomlin’s “How Great Is Our God” and, without changing the lyrics or harmony, turn it into a speed metal song. Would that arrangement get the same response from its original audience? Ideally, yes, but realistically, no. With this in mind, a faith integration expert might say, “It’s obvious then. 70 bpm is a Godly tempo!” Really? Mr. Faith Integration, you might be interested to note that the classic “sex song”, “Let’s Get It On” is also at 70 bpm. Ok. Fine. Tempo does not define if a song has faith integrated into it, but what about the harmony?

    Lets take Tim Hughes “Here I Am To Worship”. The chorus chord progression is I, V, I6, IV. How exactly does this chord progression tie into faith though? If this chord progression is inherently Godly, then would it be considered witnessing if I slapped this chord progression on a rap song about killing rival gang members?

    Music itself does not have close ties with our faith. Although we can express our faith through music, there is nothing inherently spiritual about a particular tempo, chord progression, groove, or melody. Music is only made up of two parts, Melody/Harmony and Time, and neither of those parts can be examined through the lens of faith. However “beautiful” or “angelic” the music, there really is no “faith” involved the pure construction of music.

    I empathize with you Dr. Shackleton. You certainly have an interesting task ahead of you.

  2. David, I think faith has a powerful role in our attitudes towards certain USES of music, and I think it has a powerful role in our attitudes towards ourselves as musicians, including the standards to which we hold ourselves, the humility with which we relate to other musicians, etc. It’s pretty clear in the scripture that God values music, intelligently understood and skillfully done. Chronicles has plenty of evidence of that. It’s also pretty clear that music played a powerful role in the worship of Jehovah, but much less so in the worship of Baal…. every time a new King was installed who decided to return to the worship of the One God, just about the first thing he would do is call back the Levites (the musicians) to the temple.

    Does that mean music is only valid when used in explicit worship? Hardly. But it does mean that music has a powerful connection to the spiritual in some way we only dimly see, a connection that transcends the merely emotional, the merely mathematical, the merely stylistic, etc. That doesn’t have a lot of impact on just how we teach music theory, unfortunately, which is what some people think is the measure of our faith integration.

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