The Wesleyan Quadrilateral and Music Making/Teaching/Learning

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral is the term applied by some modern scholars to the confluence of Scripture, tradition, reason and experience in the Christian life, as presented in the writings of John Wesley. While affirming the primacy of Scripture, Wesley added experience to the Anglican triad of Scripture, tradition and reason. To Wesley, correct interpretation of Scripture required the application of reason to traditions of interpretation, and the confirmation of experience and practice in personal life.

Though Scripture is the primary starting point, there is an implied role for tradition, reason and experience in the formation of the canon. While not discounting the role of divine inspiration, there is virtually universal recognition of the roles of oral/priestly tradition, personal experience and reason in the creation of the Scripture itself, and selections made for the canon. Much of Biblical scholarship consists of the identification and illumination of these threads.

In music, there are metaphors for scripture, tradition, reason and experience/practice. The musical notation that has come to us through history is the “scripture.” The “tradition” includes the performance practice (one aspect of “interpretation”) that allows an audience to hear the music performed. This includes a good deal of information from the tradition to clarify aspects of performance practice which are not notated in a specific way in the printed music itself. The tradition also includes writings about music, perhaps in a role similar to commentaries on Scripture. “Experience” includes the internalization of music on many levels, requiring adequate exposure to the “canon” (notation of traditional classics), traditions about how to interpret the notation, techniques of personal practice and study that aid in that internalization and its expression, etc. “Reason” would include disciplines like music theory and musicology, which develop theories about the structure of music, its relation to the culture that produced it, its grammar and syntax, etc., and the application of these understandings to interpretation and the creation of new music (the “canon” is still “open”).

The notation that has come down to us (musical “scripture”) is sometimes the result of the experiences in music making of many people (a sort of oral tradition existing before any notation). Other times, existing musical manuscripts represent the labor and “inspiration” of one creative individual. Some of the music seems to have been improvised first, and then recorded in notation by a very skilled person with excellent memory (who perhaps did some editing of the original performance). The comparison to the development of Scripture is obvious.

Just as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral represents an attempt to grasp the nature of special revelation in our lives, music making/teaching/learning exhibits a similar set of concepts about the general revelation of the arts. It is possible that the Wesleyan Quadrilateral represents not so much the nature of special revelation itself as it represents the nature of human beings who receive it, attempt to understand it, and apply it to living.

For more on the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, see Donald Thorsen’s book, The Wesleyan Quadrilateral.

Resources on Faith Integration and Music part two

Here are some more resources on Faith Integration and Music. These are posted with the usual disclaimer; many are not overtly theological or theistic in approach, but offer perspectives and observations that may be useful.

A Philosophy of Music Education: Advancing the Vision (3rd edition, Prentice Hall, 2003)
by Bennett Reimer
ISBN 0-13-099338-7

“This edition offers a synergistic solution to problems of prefessional philosophical uncertainty. It argues that what seem to be alternative value positions are better viewed as varied approaches to goals most music educators share, goals now encompassing a wider diversity of values than had previously been recognized.

A key addition is the author’s new theory of intelligence, based on roles rather than frames of mind. By demonstrating how each of various musical roles constitutes a particular manifestation of intelligence, he liberates the concept of intelligence from its traditional and continuing narrowness.”

The Aesthetics of Music (Oxford, 1997)
by Roger Scruton
ISBN 0-19-816727-X

“It came as a surprise that so dry a question as “what is a sound?”, should lead at last to a philosophy of modern culture. Had I though more about the Pythagorean cosmology, and the true meaning of harmonia, I should perhaps have known beforehand, that the ordering of sound as music is an ordering of the soul.”

Music, Meaning and Expression (Cornell, 1994)
by Stephen Davies
ISBN 0-8014-8151-1

the chapters:
1) Music and Language
2) Music and Pictures
3) Music and Symbols
4) The Fellings of the Composer and the Listener
5) The Expression of emotion in Music
6) The Response to Music’s Expressiveness
7) Musical Understanding

Music, Imagination and Culture (Clarendon, 1990)
by Nicholas Cook
ISBN 0-19-816303-7

Covers problems of perception, imagination, knowing and listening, all from perspectives of composers, performers and listeners.

The Music of Our Lives (Temple, 1991)
by Kathleen Marie Higgins
ISBN 0-87722-756-X

The only book I can find on music and ethics.

Theology, Music and Time (Cambridge, 1989)
by Jeremy S. Begbie
ISBN 0-521-78568-5

An interesting and well worked out theory of how music may provide insight into theology, and not just the reverse (the usual assumption). The main point here is in regard to time in both music and theology.

Resources for Faith Integration and Music, part one


Here are some books that are very useful in this area. Look for another post with more soon.

Music and the Mind
by Anthony Storr. Music stimulates the mind, captivates the heart, and nurtures the soul. A distinguished psychiatrist ponders why.
ISBN 0-345-38318-4

Surprised by Beauty
by Robert R. Reilly. A listener’s guide to the recovery of modern music. The best composers and recordings of the last 100 years.
ISBN 0-9660597-4-3

Art in Action
by Nicholas Wolterstorff. A Christian perspective on aesthetics. Especially good for people who want to connect music to “the arts”.
ISBN 0-8028-1816-1

Theology and the Arts – Encountering God through Music, Art and Rhetoric
by Richard Viladesau. “… beauty is a means of divine revelation …. art is the human mediation that both enables and limits its revelatory power.”
ISBN 0-8091-3927-8

Unceasing Worship
by Harold Best. “…addresses popular misunderstandings about the use of music and offers correctives toward a more biblically consistent practice of artistic action.”
ISBN 0-8308-3229-7