The basis for the work of art-making is found in the doctrine of the Incarnation. We are taking invisible things such as ideas, experiences, feelings, and making them perceivable through the various physical media we use (clay, film, stone, paint, music).
Even the basis for an understanding of why we need musical education is theologically based as well. Even our imaginations are damaged by the Fall. Through the study of music (or art in general) we grow in our abilities to see connections between things. In modern thought the damage done to our tastes is ignored by simply relegating the entire category of beauty to the dustbin of subjectivity, but a kind of human maturity can come as the result of taking the claims of beauty seriously. The reality is that we are aesthetically damaged as well as in every other way, and the only way back to fuller humanity is through prayer and a rethinking of the definition of taste for His glory.
Education is more than teaching about subjects;
it is the training of the sensibilities to love that which is worth loving, attaching the heart to the good. Music has been taught in the Classical and Medieval worlds as a means of shaping the soul to live the good life. We need to rekindle an appreciation for music in that way, rather than offering either standardless popular music, or esoteric academic music. I am convinced that if we were to take the connections to our theology seriously we would find we could reintroduce the general public to the concert hall again, as the music there would be relevant again.
So, how then do we teach music? We do it by way of comparison. Compare the works of our composers in the past and the present, and offer the foundation of criteria to evaluate the object: beginning with the performance, the composition and the content. Then, include the aspect of MAKING music, by piano, orchestral and band instruments, and choral singing. The composition makes use of the form and elements of music, and that, with a sense of what the music is saying, leads the performer to his interpretation. It is what makes music meaningful to all concerned.
IV. Conclusions: a sacramental view of the world
For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who claim to see shall become blind. John 9:39
The Naturalism that disallows serious consideration of the supernatural has led to many unforeseen consequences, not the least of which is the
loss of the spiritual purpose of material things. When Jesus calls himself the vine and us the branches, he has opened our eyes to an aspect of the Kingdom of God, but in speaking so, he has also given a great honor to vines. Without the supernatural dimension in our thinking, we may still have vines, but on closer inspection, we will find that vines have lost something in the transaction. They are somehow less grand.
In the same way, a sacramental view of music grants a special honor and significance to music — a position that allows us insight into the mind of God and his Creation by way of harmony.
The combination of a sacramental view of the world with a holy imagination can feed the soul with visions of the transcendent through the details of the world. This is beauty — the correspondence of the material object with the transcendent spirit — a resonance of harmony heard through the din of the fallen world. Please note I do not say in spite of the fallen world, although it is that at times, but even by way of the fallen world. This is the power of God, to show His harmony even through the elements of brokenness around us.
A sacramental view of the world suggests a metaphoric relationship between the physical and the spiritual, and this in turn gives rich depth to metaphors of all kinds, including musical ones. It also gives us a purpose for art and music: beauty. Beauty is at least in part the recognition of the correlation of matter and spirit, and we need to teach the next generations to unpack those metaphors — to see sacramentally. This requires
the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, the true Muse the Greeks could only guess about, and the gift God gives us of an imagination.
Beauty has lost its way in the 20th century in that we have lost our connection with the transcendent — that is, you cannot have the experience of seeing through the objects of this world into the next if you no longer believe there is a next. Naturalism, that seemed so optimistic in the 18th century, now appears a dead-end intellectually. Nature apart from her Creator becomes meaningless matter, and sadly, human enterprise can aspire to nothing higher than that same soul-less existence. The modern man (and I include the post-modern man in this) is haunted by his own humanity, seeing the ghosts of meaning, significance, ecstasy, profundity, joy, in the daily grind of his life. When he stops to reflect, he senses the musical rhythm in his breathing, his heartbeat, his walking pace; sometimes there seems to be more to eating meals than sustenance; he catches the notion of harmony in a well-run football play; perhaps a momentary glimpse of unity where he most expects diversity, say in his marriage; or diversity where he most expects unity, say in his twin children; he may even lift his head from anxiety long enough to find a certain joy in the rhythm of sleeping and working, or maybe looking back on a long life, discern even a kind of melody in his days, a certain beauty in the rise and fall of his fortunes, each connected in a line to the others in ways that couldn’t be seen while going through them.
This is what music is for. More than simply a means of distraction from the hard aspects of life — like a sort of emotional drug used to deaden us or entertain us while we rest — music has the ability to outline something of the actual experience of living. It speaks of the human condition because it is, like any metaphor, the use of the physical material of this world to draw attention to that which transcends our present moment. It has the ability to both reflect our experiences and shape the way we see them.
Music education then, has the ability to remind us of the relation of this matter and spirit, shaping our souls to love the beauty of harmony. This is why the ancients educated by way of music and gymnastics. This is why music has always held the position it does in the quadrivium. Musical education leads to a love of harmony in all things.
How do we teach music? The elements, the history, the comparisons of excellent works, and finally the extension of this harmony — which is the beautiful relation of disparate things — to all aspects of life: to justice, to marriage, to virtuous business relations, to love of those who are different than yourself, to math, science, philosophy, and ultimately to the Triune God Himself. The beauty of harmony tunes our affections to virtue, love, and the mind of God.
Music rightly understood cannot save our
souls, but what writer and critic Donald Drew has said about great literature applies to music as well, “after experiencing it, there will be more of a soul there to save.”