The Music of the Spheres and the Hidden Places of the Mind

It is no secret that music affects the brain in particular ways that other types of learning do not and cannot. How can we seek to engage all of our mind with a proper understanding of musical studies — not as enrichment or extracurricular, but as an integrated part of knowledge and educational disciplines?

Gregory Wilbur

Gregory Wilbur is Chief Musician at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Franklin, Tennessee, and the Dean and Senior Fellow of New College Franklin, a Christian liberal arts college that he helped to start. He earned his master’s degree in music composition at the University of Alabama. He is the author of Glory and Honor: The Music and Artistic Legacy of Johann Sebastian Bach and has released three CDs of his compositions of congregational psalms, hymns and service music. He also composes for choir, orchestra, film and chamber ensembles, including the soundtrack for the documentary on Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Logic on Fire. In addition to being a regular speaker at classical conferences, he has taught for more than 20 years, and has a column on the Quadrivium called The Crossroads on the CiRCE Institute website. His wife, Sophia, homeschools their daughter, Eleanor, and they all enjoy reading, cooking, taking walks and enjoying life in middle Tennessee.

Crafting a Classical Music Curriculum

Lilli Benko, music teacher/administrator and violinist at Veritas School in Richmond, VA, will share the story of her growing school’s developing music program and the successes and ongoing challenges. Her presentation will include a teaching demonstration of the “Paper Orchestra” and her blueprints for a distinctively “classical” and integrated K-12 curriculum. All are welcome, especially arts educators and administrators.

Lilli Benko

With a B.A. in Music and Rhetoric/Communication Studies from the University of Virginia, Lilli received her formative training in violin with Ronda Respess (Atlanta Symphony), participated in summer festivals at the Brevard School of Music and Indiana University School of Music, and served as concertmaster and first violinist for various youth orchestras and quartets. She actively performs in Richmond area chamber ensembles, theater orchestras and is a member of her worship team at West End Presbyterian Church. Lilli is living her ‘dream day job’ as a Director of Arts Education which enables her to teach and design music curriculum at Veritas in Richmond, Virginia. ”I am thrilled to work alongside an immensely talented and dedicated faculty in cultivating students’ a ections for God’s glory through the fine and performing arts.” Lilli relishes the daily adventure and joys of shepherding Win (13) and Tad (6) alongside her husband, Ma .

Q & A with Peterson

Singer, songwriter and author Andrew Peterson will engage in a discussion with those present about a life of music, writing and art.

Andrew Peterson

Andrew Peterson is an acclaimed singer, songwriter and author of the four-book series The Wingfeather Saga. Andrew has released some 15 albums and has published several works of fiction, audiobooks and songbooks. Andrew is also founder of the online creative and collaborative community called the Rabbit Room that includes podcasts, a music and bookstore and collaborative conversation surrounding music, the arts, Scripture and the Christian faith. For more than twenty years, Andrew has forged his own path, refusing the artistic compromises that so often come with chasing album sales and radio singles and creating instead a long line of songs that ache with sorrow, joy and integrity, and that are, at the end of the day, part of a real, ongoing, human conversation. To learn more about Andrew Peterson, visit his official website here: h p://

What is Your Telos?: Auditing a Classical Music Program

For the past eighty years I have started each day in the same manner…I go to the piano, and I play two preludes and fugues of Bach…It is a sort of benediction on the house. But that is not the only meaning for me. It is a rediscovery of the world of which I have the joy of being part. It fills me with awareness of the wonder of life, with a feeling of the incredible marvel of being a human being…Each day [the music] is something new, fantastic and unbelievable.

— Pablo Casals, cellist “What if education wasn’t first and foremost about what we

know, but about what we love?”

— James K.A. Smith, philosopher and professor at Calvin College


Three years ago, James K.A. Smith drastically reoriented the heart of my music teaching. Up until then, my chief work was refining a time-tested music pedagogy aimed at knowledge and mastery. As at many growing clas- sical schools, my music colleagues and I poured ourselves into creatively teaching the core elements of music, expos- ing students to masterworks and great composers, and shepherding them to perform beautiful repertoire to God’s glory. Yet despite all the signature elements of a music pro- gram complementing a healthy classical school, I felt that something was lacking in our objective.

How I wept during your hymns and songs! I was deeply moved by the music of the sweet chants of your Church. The sounds flowed into my ears and the truth was distilled into my heart. This caused the feelings of devotion to overflow. Tears ran, and it was good for me to have that experience.

— St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (350-430) Confes- sions – 9.6.14

At the 2012 SCL Conference in Charleston, SC, James K.A. Smith’s fresh words and winsome delivery stirred up a long-lost memory: to be human is to be a lover—and spe- cifically, that humans are designed to be lovers of God and of his Kingdom. The implications for applying this ancient principle to an educational approach are astounding. In his subsequent writings and speeches, Dr. Smith has encour- aged educators to take a ‘formation audit’ – an inventory of our telos (Greek for ‘an ultimate object or aim’). This prac- tice has profoundly affected the way I relate to students, steer my school’s music curriculum, and design school concerts. My purpose in writing this article is to stimulate conversation among music teachers and administrators and challenge every classical school across the country to ask:

– What is the true telos of our work?
– Are we training the affections of our students (teaching them to be lovers) or merely delivering good content? How?
– How can we assess if we are hitting the mark?

“The most valuable thing a teacher can impart to children is not knowledge and understanding per se but a longing for knowledge and understanding, and an appreciation for intel- lectual values, whether they be artistic, scientific, or moral. It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.

-Albert Einstein, written for the National Council of Supervisors of Elementary Science, 1934


Many voices in the classical education movement have joined a growing chorus singing James K.A. Smith’s tune. One of the most eloquent exhortations to classical educa- tors is Jenny Rallens’ (Teacher at the Ambrose School, Boise, ID) eloquent 2013 Arete Conference speech on “The Li- turgical Classroom and Virtue Formation” (https://vimeo. com/83236278). Every K-12 teacher should hear how she clearly spells out principles by which classical education can effectively and elegantly teach truth in a way that shapes a person’s life and loves. The idea that classical Christian education should aim first for the formation of souls rather than function as a mode to communicate truths is exciting to me, especially since the discipline of music possesses a unique ability to tap into human emotion and experiences. We should desire our students to love music such that they hunger for it, not just for leisure, but for the purposes of glorifying God and enjoying Him through it.

The theory of music is a penetration of the very heart of providence’s ordering of things. It is not a matter of cheerful entertainment or superficial consolation for sad moods, but a central clue to the interpretation of the hidden harmony of God and nature in which the only discordant element is evil in the heart of man.

— Boethius (ca. 480-525) – Henry Chadwick, Boethius: The Consolations of Music, Logic, Theology, and Philosophy, 101

Despite the groundswell of support for heart formation in classical education, the discussion has largely been quiet about the practical translation to music instruction. I would like to offer a challenge to administrators and teachers:

can we be more intentional in defining and sharing the key pedagogical elements that encompass a truly classical approach to teaching music? While not exhaustive, I have outlined some assessment questions below to help schools audit their programs and thus more accurately identify their effectiveness in training students’ affections.

Challenge: the Tyranny of Time

In contrast to subjects based in the written word, visual art, and the quantitative nature of math and science, music is set apart due to its temporal qualities. Author and musician Jeremy Begbie expresses it this way:

Music, of course, takes time. To enjoy music is not to ex- perience something in a moment, nor to contemplate a still pattern. It is to be carried along, pulled into movement. The character of a piece of music is not given in an instant, or even a near-instant, but can be discovered only in and through time, and in some pieces only when it reaches a climactic gathering together, the end toward which it travels.

— Jeremy Begbie, Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music, 219

Before we can audit how we reach students’ hearts through music instruction, we must acknowledge the raging coun- ter-cultural issue at our classroom doors: the battle for time. This precious commodity in a harried, sound bite, texting world presents a formidable challenge to teaching music and its cultural impact in a heart-affecting way. Sadly, most American families (even those in classical schools) do not have the time, tools, or resources to encourage their stu- dents to enjoy music outside of the popular realm (where most songs average 2-3 minutes). There simply cannot be a renaissance in music instruction without contemplative time dedicated to a diet of good, beautiful and true works— both in and out of the classroom. Begbie lays a strong argu- ment for this in relation to the unique liturgical practices and services around Holy Week:

If we allow ourselves to play the events at their original speed—God’s speed, not ours—living in and through the events day by day: the grieving farewells, the betrayal and denial, the shuddering fear in the garden, the stretched-out day of torture and forsakenness, and the daybreak of wonder…By refusing to skip over these days, with all their dark shadows and turns, we allow ourselves to be led far more profoundly into the story’s sense and power. Music is remarkably instruc- tive here, because more than any other art form, it teaches us how not to rush over tension, how to find joy and fulfillment through a temporal movement that includes struggles, clashes and fractures.

— Begbie, Resounding Truth, 279

Audit your Listening

A recording of the first movement of J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto #5 was cranked up to almost full volume. “Heads up, students,” I alerted, “the mystery instrument is about to take us on a wild roller-coaster ride!” A moment later, an in- nocent sounding harpsichord stepped into the musical spot- light and then…the moment arrived. Bach’s famous flurry
of notes were unleashed, soaring up and down, frantically seeking a harmonic resting place until finally resolving into a satisfyingly full force baroque ‘tutti’ (musical term meaning, ‘all together’). Almost in unison, my 6th grade strings class exploded into an excited chorus of “Wow” and one student joyfully exclaimed, “I’ve never heard anything like that! Can I play that on the violin?”

— Lilli Benko, music teacher (Veritas School – Richmond, VA)

An emphasis on listening could be one of the most radical and invigorating cultural liturgies a school can practice. Think of listening to music as a substantial hiking journey through a scenic land. It is an active pursuit and requires active senses. If you have a good map, you can benefit by knowing where the trail leads and perhaps how long it will take. You can outfit your gear for the specific terrain. But until you experience the pounding of your own feet on the path, you will not know the complete sights, smells, and events (e.g. impromptu sunrise, sighting of a bald eagle, sounds of sudden thunderstorm). Listening requires skill and practice to interpret structure and form, musical ele- ments and narrative (the ‘maps’, if you will)…but without the first hand experience of aurally ‘gazing’ at a work of musical art, students will not have the opportunity to glean the harvest for themselves and internalize it in their souls.

All books on understanding music are agreed about one point: You can’t develop a better appreciation of the art merely by reading a book about it. If you want to understand music better, you can do nothing more important than listen to it. Everything that I have to say in this book is said about an experience that you can only get outside this book. Therefore, you will probably be wasting your time in reading it unless you make a firm resolve to hear a great deal more music than you have in the past.

— Aaron Copland, composer, What to Listen for in Music, 3

Questions to consider about your school’s classical music program:

  1. Does the general music curriculum allow for at least 10 minutes per class to listen to great works of music (representing Classical, Jazz, or World genres)?

  2. Do students in humanities classes regularly hear works of music (whether in class or via at-home listening as- signments) that correspond to the literature and histori- cal time frame they are studying and reading?

  3. Aside from seasonal school choral or ensemble con- certs, do students and teachers regularly perform on instruments (e.g. assemblies, lunches, classrooms)? Is there a culture of ‘sharing’ musical talents in your com- munity?

  4. How often does each grade see a live performance given by a professional music ensemble?

  5. Do your students have a familiarity with different genres of music? (For example can they identify a great Western composer and masterpiece from the Baroque, Classical, Romantic and 20th Century eras of music?)

  6. Does your school have a published listening curricu- lum or repertoire list (similar to a reading list)?

  7. Do ensemble classes (choir, strings, brass/woodwinds, etc.) hear recordings or see great performances of the works they are preparing?

A final observation about the importance of music listening skills: Professors Paul Munson and Joshua Farris Drake
of Grove City College have published a useful book which explores the meaning of beauty and the processes by which humans perceive art and music. In their chapter, “How Do We Judge Art and Music”, they identify (with the help of C.S. Lewis from An Experiment in Criticism) how we receive art or in their words, “discover what we cannot anticipate.”

Reception involves, first, “laying aside as completely as we can all our own preconceptions, interests, and associations”
to make room for the artist’s message…we must use our eyes. We must look, and go on looking till we have certainly seen exactly what is there.” The receiver is not passive. “His also is an imaginative activity…”

— Paul Munson and Joshua Farris Drake, Art and Music: A Student’s Guide, 50

Audit your Play

While listening, or music hearing, is an imaginative process, making music or ‘playing’ is a hands-on embodied experi- ence. Bodily practices play an important role in cultivat- ing heart change. In the same way that embodied worship liturgies (baptism, communion, congregational singing) are essential to the expression of our praise to God, they are also formative to shaping our telos. It is imperative then that students of music regularly engage in a frequent practice of the principles and techniques they learn through ‘play’.

1. Do your students and faculty sing (hymns, psalms, school song) together on a daily basis?

2. Does your general music curriculum include opportu- nities for students to clap, dance, play instruments and sing in every class?

3. Does your music faculty regularly follow a systematic pedagogy of ear-training and rhythm drills, especially in ensemble classes (choir, strings, brass/woodwinds, etc.)?

4. Are students regularly encouraged and equipped with tools to improvise and create new music?

5. Is there an opportunity for students to learn to play instruments skillfully and a trajectory for the develop- ment of ensembles from the grammar through rhetoric years?

6. Do your students express joy in performances or after experimenting with a new musical concept or idea?

Audit your Devotion

Pablo Casals’ heartfelt reflection at the beginning of this article reminds us that music can fill us with a refreshed wonder at life and our purpose. It seems fitting that classical schools should regularly engineer into their classrooms meaningful rituals that point to the glorious design of music and students’ roles as praise beings. Our musical instruction —driven by listening and play— should be anchored in practices of praise and devotion. A classical school aimed first at cultivating stu- dents’ affections will surely hit the mark when Jesus Christ is preeminent over and through all subjects, and most naturally expressed through music and the arts. In this spirit, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, theologian and anti-Nazi dissident, gives us inspi- ration for our work. He brilliantly refers to Jesus as the cantus firmus, a musical term for the principal or central theme that finds its way through a piece of polyphony, giving coherence and enabling the other parts to flourish:

I wanted to tell you to have a good, clear, cantus firmus; that is the only way to a full and perfect sound, when the counterpoint has a firm support and can’t come adrift or get out of tune, while remaining a distinct whole in its own right. Only a polyphony of this kind can give life a wholeness and at the same time assure us that nothing calamitous can happen as long as the cantus firmus is kept going.

— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, 240. SDG

Beauty in Music: Inspiration and Excellence

Beauty in Music

Genesis 2:7 “and the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and he became a living soul.”

Rhythms, melodies, harmonies speak to us of immaterial things. The modern world is full of false dichotomies. There are divisions between reason and revelation, fact and value, and male and female that require careful definition so that the desired joining of the two is possible. The division between the material and the immaterial, that is, the body and the spirit, is one of these. Genesis 2:7 speaks of forming Adam from the ground, and breathing into him the breath of life, or the spirit. Two things indeed, but curiously, the result of the combination of these two is the living soul. The one thing that seems clear here is that the soul is alive, and that it somehow is the combination of the two elements of matter and spirit.

The manner in which one walks can show the point of intersection between the physical and the spiritual — that is, the interface between the sensation of literal movement in sight and sound and the conclusions drawn about the intangible personality, mood, and emotional state of the walker. When the tempo of the walk is varied, observers draw different conclusions about the walker’s state of mind. What does tempo have to do with intangibles such as intention, friendliness, or confidence?

Plato’s famous lines in the third book of The Republic speak of how the musical modes are linked directly to the various character traits he is either for or against in his ideal City.

‘And which are the harmonies expressive of sorrow? You are musical, and you can tell me.’ ‘The harmonies that you mean are the mixed and tenor Lydian…and such like.’ ‘These then, I said, must be banished…’

These modes are the basis for both melody and linear harmony, and when combined with rhythm made a place for music that was far larger in scope than that we offer today. That scope is nothing short of soul-shaping. In the conclusion to the Preface of his thoughtful book on musical aesthetics, philosopher Roger Scruton sees this scope:

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 thought 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.

Plato seems to be recommending nothing short of government-run musical censorship. Our present-day enlightened embrace of all musical expressions is not so much the result of a hard-fought battle for individual freedom as a belief that music has no such powers to shape and affect the soul. If we really believed that music had the effect of training the next generation to be dissolute, irresponsible, and cowardly, we might find ourselves censoring music.

Listening to music is not the same activity as listening to sounds in general. The difference between them is that we listen to sounds in order to know the thing making the sound (sound of a car, or the sound of a baby crying), but we don’t listen to the sound of music to hear an oboe playing, or a guitar strumming. Rather, we listen to hear the sound it is making. We may recognize the sound comes from an oboe, but we want to hear what the oboe is playing. There is the source, but there is meaning in the order of the sounds themselves. The goal, when we listen to music, is to hear what it is saying: the contours of the melody, the harmony, the rhythm speak to us of a musical event. These elements are the medium by which the communications come — these elements are the language of the composer/performer.

Beauty is partly the correspondence between the material and immaterial. When we do hear these elements, we verbalize the experience in terms that are similar to other aspects of life.

We describe personality traits, emotions, ideas, moods. Often unconsciously our minds are looking for patterns, symmetries, orders, and expressions that will speak to us of meaning. These physical sounds correspond to these intangible aspects of human experience. If there is a shape or trajectory to the experience of hurt in a broken heart, or the experience of awe before a King, it may be that composers can capture something of it in the various elements of a composition. The beauty of the work is partly the result of this perceived correspondence. There is something fitting, right, correct, or profound in a successful work that is beautiful, but to be able to perceive this correspondence, we need another element.

The imagination exists not so much for the purpose of making things up, but for recognizing correlation, relation between things — seeing connections. It is not by accident that we agree that the rhythm discovered in a brisk walk to the podium reflects confidence, or urgency, while a broken rhythm implies indecision, distraction, anxiety. We have experienced the connection between these things so often that we have learned to become fluent in this language.

Imagination is an organ of perception with which we can make this correlation: it pairs the physicality of
a perceived music with human moods, characteristics, states of mind or personality. Just as we have linguistic metaphors, we also have musical metaphors. We describe the aspects of music in non-musical terms all the time: loud sudden outbursts may imply anger; melodies can be described as languorous, angular, smooth, tender, demanding, or questioning. These are by their linguistic nature metaphoric — the sounds themselves have none of these characteristics. Music is by its nature disembodied so if we are to speak of what it expresses, we are forced to use metaphoric language. The imagination grasps these relations. Could it be that our imaginations are not “making things up,” as much as recognizing a truth in correspondence? When we find just the right metaphor, when we hit on the right combination and communicate it precisely, it is part of the experience we call the perception of beauty.

The telos of music

Music is thought to be an entertainment, a diversion, a mood-setter, or a time-filler. But for the ancient and medieval scholars, music was a window through which one could see the created order, as well as a way of training the soul toward integrity.

The beauty of music is one of the sources of Plato’s hierarchy of love in the Symposium and in The Republic:

And therefore, I said, Glaucon, musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful, or of him who is ill-educated ungraceful; and also because he who has received this true education of the inner being will most shrewdly perceive omissions or faults in art and nature, and with a true taste, while he praises and rejoices over and receives into his soul the good, and becomes noble and good,

he will justly blame and hate the bad, now in the days of his youth, even before he is able to know the reason why; and when reason comes he will recognize and salute the friend with whom his education has made him long familiar…

…Thus much of music, which makes a fair ending; for what should be the end of music if not the love of beauty?

Plato taught that a love of music instilled a love
of beauty that spilled over into all areas of life, leading up the hierarchy to love of justice. Roger Scruton has written, “…beauty is not simply a redundant addition to the list of human appetites. It is not something that we could lack and still be fulfilled as people. It is a need arising from our metaphysical condition as free individuals, seeking our place in an objective world.”

If the telos of music is beauty, how then do we teach music? By training our students’ imaginations, starting with how to hear the elements of music. The elements of Adam were matter and spirit, fused together to make a living soul that reflects the Imago Dei. The elements of music are: rhythm, melody, harmony, form, texture, and timbre, fused together to make a composition that can reflect the ideas, experiences, the very humanity of both composer and listener. Knowing what to listen
for, we begin a new way of listening for the student. The ability to discern, to distinguish, to perceive the language of music is the beginning of genuine taste about music, and taste is a facet of wisdom. So music is forming our souls; it really does matter what we listen to, and what we offer in our services, just as it matters what our churches look like, and how our liturgies are designed, not only for didactic purposes — to have our theology correct — but to link the harmony of the Trinity with our daily lives.

So where does music come from? Is there more to music than emotional expression or mood setting?

II. Inspiration

…I have called by name Bezalel…and I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge…Exodus 31:2

The Greek Muses

Many of the Greek writers mention the Muses. Homer, Socrates, and others speak of them, but Hesiod is the one who speaks of the specifics that are commonly held. There are nine:

Calliope – eldest, epic poetry Clio – history
Erato – love poetry
Euterpe – music

Melpomene – singer of tragedy Polyhymnia – sacred poetry and geometry Terpsichore – dance
Thalia – comedy and pastoral poetry Urania – astronomy/astrology

These nine sing their inspirations. The Muses inspired far more than the subject of music only. Their subjects include all of our human artistic and intellectual pursuits, and the inspiration for each was conveyed by way of song. The very word MUSIC is taken from Mousike Techne (the work of the Muses). Nearly everything that
we today refer to as “the arts and sciences” were, in
the Greek mind, inspired through song by the Muses,
and that inspiration leads Homer to compose The Illiad, leads Thucydides to write The Peloponnesian Wars, leads Sophocles to write Oedipus Rex, and leads Pythagoras to discover musical harmony and the music of the spheres. What comes is an approach which is so inspired, that is, that resonates with the truth to such a degree, that it will feed philosophers, scientists, and artists for millennia:
the prerequisite for beauty is harmonia – the fitting, right, and mathematically sound interrelations of disparate objects. These Nine Muses were the keepers of the secret knowledge of harmony, and the significance of this knowledge and its power and influence over all of life are symbolized by the fact that they are the daughters of Zeus himself.

Beauty can be reflected in painting, sculpture, photographs, but there are arts such as plays, films, and music that include another aspect of human experience: time. As soon as you introduce the element of time, one’s perception of the work requires the ability to remember what has already occurred. Memory thus becomes a significant aspect in the immediate apprehension of these arts. To lose your memory is to lose yourself. If you can’t recall your identity, every effort must be made to rectify the situation. Memory is essential to identity. It is also essential to apprehending music, for exactly the same reason.

Music traces a pattern in the mind that lingers after the music moves on. The memory holds that trace, and the composer counts on our capacity to do so in order to describe the pattern fully. Like words in a sentence,
we encounter music as moments in linear succession,
but musical patterns are made without words; that is,
the pattern is not literal but rather more like patterns
in architecture or a garden because they too are each apprehended in succession. The Greeks gave one answer for both the questions: Where does music come from, and, what part does memory play in its perception? We know that the father of the Muses is Zeus himself, but we seldom hear about their mother: her name was Mnemosyne: Memory. So, for real inspiration, great knowledge, for our right creative gifts to be released to do their jobs, to comprehend the nature of tragedy, epic, history, science, dance, even theology, we need the authority of Zeus, but we also need the knowledge of what has gone before — we need memory. This memory is not only of the previous words and notes in the artwork to which we presently attend, but the knowledge of our own history. What have great artists of the past done? How are we inheritors of their wisdom?

How then do we teach music? History. We need to remember. But there is one more thing to consider.

III. Excellence

“Finally, brothers, whatever things are true…honest…just… pure…lovely…of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be anything worthy of praise, think on these things.” Phil 4:8

Our day is as much the product of history as any other day. We are the inheritors of a relatively new field of study called aesthetics. It is a modern word, first coined in the 18th century, and discussed at length by Immanuel Kant and others until eventually the whole line of inquiry was relegated to the subjective world of values, to join her sister faith in that limbo. As a result, in the last 225 years, our culture has assumed that beauty first is only a matter of individual experience, and eventually, a matter of purely personal preference. Once the goal is mislaid, it is impossible to gauge whether a work is growing closer to it, so the loss of a telos requires the loss of a concept of excellence. Innovation and technical ability soon take the place of real imagination, correlation, and beauty.

Thus, the loss of what the ancient Greeks and Christians, as well as the Medieval Christians, thought of as excellence in art in general and music in particular is really a modern loss of confidence. The literal meaning of confidence suggests acting con fide “with faith.” A lack of faith in God leads eventually to a lack of the ability to produce “simple predication” (as Richard Weaver would say). At first we lose the ability to say, “This is the point of art.” Then we lose the ability to say, “That is beautiful and that is not.” Then “that is art and that is not.” And eventually we find we can only say, “There is nothing more to art than the shock of the new; the expression that forces an audience to respond.” Reinstate faith, and we find ourselves led back to a definition of beauty that finds its source in the perfect character of God, and once He is our standard, “better” and “worse” are meaningful categories again. Beauty is the goal of art — I don’t say “prettiness” is the goal — I say beauty.

Then what is this beauty? How many philosophers have run aground making rules about beauty? What we need are not so much cultural standards by which to retroactively judge the beauty of an object; what we need is a useful foundational principle and definition of the word “objective.”

Objective beauty is simply that which is found in the object rather than in the response of the viewer/listener. Thomas Aquinas held that beauty was defined both by
the characteristics of the object AND the effect that object has on the viewer/listener. Ultimately, the Christian view of beauty will include both aspects in imitation of higher models, but when one’s day is dominated by the subjective side of the spectrum, as we are today, a reintroduction
of the opposite side is welcome. We must reintroduce
the study of form. When one describes the contours of
the piece of music itself, the way it is composed, the way it is performed, the form it offers for contemplation,
the meaning of the words chosen, one is describing the object itself, and the resulting opinion offered based on these things should be called “objective.” Don’t make the mistake of hearing “objective” as a synonym for “truth” as some will assume. The truth is far more illusive, and we have hardly scratched that surface with this approach. But what we have done is regain a category for musical discussion that requires thought. What we need is a definition of objective that leads to a fuller understanding of the work instead of considering a work based solely on whether or not we are moved by it. Teaching objectively about music means that we will address three aspects (at least):

Performance (an evaluation of the virtuosity of the performer)
Composition (an evaluation of the means of musical expression)

Content (an evaluation of the message or statement of the work)

All three of these require study, and that study will not only reveal what there is to know about the piece of music in question, but also will hone the sensibilities of the listener to be increasingly able to discern and explicate music. Over time, exposure to this sort of approach feeds our starved imaginations on excellence, and we find that instead of having to tell students not to listen to music that we might consider bad for them, they find they simply aren’t all that interested in the trivial, the base, the coarse. There would be nothing more encouraging for a music teacher than to hear a singer screaming his one- dimensional song of pain and passion, longing to be taken seriously, only then to see his student yawn and change the station.

A Theological basis for excellence

What then would be a basis for a Christian school intent on teaching excellence? We teach that taste is more than personal preference; it is a facet of wisdom. Taste is
the ability to discern between what is good and what is excellent. Discernment comes more by way of regular exposure and experience (as a master trains the wine- taster’s palate or the piano tuner’s ear), then with rules and requirements. What is needed is a master teacher who can not only know music but make connections from music, by the imagination through metaphors, to the realm of human experience, and finally to real theology.
Any work of art requires an element of unity and of diversity combined. The Greeks debated about the
one and the many, but great works have both elements. The reason is that the Creation itself reflects both unity and diversity in each of its categories (such as tree, fish, man), and we find we are only satisfied when the two are present. Too much unity? Tedium. Too much diversity? Chaos. Why should it surprise us that both the Creation and our tastes are created by a God who is ultimately both perfect unity and harmonious diversity in His Trinity?

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.”

Hearing Heavenly Harmonies

In the early 1960s, Flannery O’Connor addressed a group of English teachers concerning the aims and methods
of teaching fiction. She said that she (as a novelist) and the teachers “should be able to find ourselves enjoying a mutual concern, which would be a love of the language and what can be done with it in the interests of dramatic truth.” Having rejected a view of literature which was moralistic or utilitarian, she declared: “It is the business of fiction to embody mystery through manners, and mystery is a great embarrassment to the modern mind.”

O’Connor assumed that the teachers she was addressing were eager that their students not be captive to the prejudices of the modern mind. After all, she knew (as expressed in one of her letters) that “if you live today you breathe in nihilism.” Since the modern mind was disoriented, popular fashions and fads in literature and typical habits of reading were disordered. So the challenge facing the teacher of literature was a great one. “I don’t know whether I am setting the aims of the teacher of English too high or too low when I suggest that it is, partly at least, his business to change the face of the best-seller list.” Teachers could effect such a change by instructing their students to attend to the form of literary works, since “the form of a story gives it meaning which any other form would change, and unless the student is able, in some degree, to apprehend the form, he will never apprehend anything else about the work, except what is extrinsic to it as literature.”

In an essay written at about the same time, O’Connor offered advice for the selection of fiction to be taught in high-school classes. She concluded her brief remarks by anticipating an objection: “And if the student finds that this is not to his taste? Well, that is regrettable. Most regrettable. His taste should not be consulted; it is being formed.”

The work of teaching everything, not just literature, is about forming taste, about guiding the loves of students. The modern mind, as Miss O’Connor knew, finds such a task uncongenial. Modern men and women resent the idea that their emotional responses need to be trained, since modern thought has taught us that our instinctive, untrained desires are the most honest, the most sacred part of our being. We have come very far from a Christian, or indeed, a classical anthropology and psychology.

The classical tradition—reaffirmed by the Christian tradition—insists that education is nothing if not the training of the affections. As C. S. Lewis observed in The Abolition of Man (his most important book), “Until quite modern times all teachers and even all men believed the universe to be such that certain emotional reactions on our part could either be congruous or incongruous to it— believed, in fact, that objects did not merely receive, but could merit, our approval or disapproval, our reverence, or our contempt.” Lewis also noted that St. Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind and degree of love which is appropriate to it. “Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought. When the age for reflective thought comes, the pupil who has been thus trained in ‘ordinate affections’ or ‘just sentiments’ will easily find the first principles in Ethics: but to the corrupt man they will never be visible at all and he can make no progress in that science. Plato before him had said the same. The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likable, disgusting, and hateful.”

It is heartening that a growing number of Christian educators are recovering an understanding for the lost goals of teaching. But there is a great deal of ground to be retaken. The most challenging recovery involves our perception of music. As is well-known among the readers of this journal, music—along with arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy—was one of the four disciplines included in the quadrivium, the “four ways” which completed the classical trivium of grammar, logic, and rhetoric, and which together comprised the seven liberal arts. If you wanted to prepare to study theology and philosophy in a medieval university, you had to study music first. Music was the experience of the numeric realities of the cosmos, in time, through the senses. Even today, people describe music as a way of ordering time, or a way of perceiving the order that is time. One of the manuscripts in the library of Johann Sebastian Bach was a treatise on counterpoint written in 1725 in which the author, Johann Joseph Fux, referred to “art which imitates and perfects nature, but never destroys it.” This idea, first articulated in Aristotle, was one that the very Lutheran Bach also embraced. As Bach scholar Christoph Wolff argues, “For Bach, art lay between the reality of the world—nature—and God, who ordered this reality.” In Bach’s thinking and in his compositional efforts, musical structure—harmonia, in the Latin terminology of the day—ultimately refers to the order of nature and to its divine cause. Or, as one of Bach’s students wrote, “Music is a mixed mathematical science that concerns the origins, attributes, and distinctions of sound, out of which a cultivated and lovely melody and harmony are made, so that God is honored and praised but mankind is moved to devotion, virtue, joy, and sorrow.”

In his biography of Bach, subtitled The Learned Musician, Christoph Wolff presents Bach as a musical Newton, as a man consciously committed to discovery of and delight in the ways of God in creation, specifically as those ways could be known in musical form.

Bach believed that there was a perceptible order in the universe, an order that should serve as a model for human making and doing, for art, as well as for science, for our relationships, for law, for agriculture, for politics, and, perhaps most importantly, for the life of the Church. In other words, in this older way of perceiving reality, cultural institutions and forms were not to be arbitrarily or capriciously or willfully engineered and selected, but developed and approved in faithful resonance with the order God has established in the cosmos. The goal of education was to help the student perceive and delight in that order.

But even by Bach’s day, the apparent glimpses of the transcendent in music and in other forms of artistic expression were coming to be regarded by many as wishful thinking—not so much because their view of music was more modest, but because their view of the cosmos was changing. In our time, that transition has long been complete. “Nowadays,” writes Jamie James, “most scientists would accept the thesis that the cosmos has no underlying logic in the classical sense, but is rather a confluence of accidents, which are governed by laws. However, the laws themselves are irrational and do not arise from any fundamental orderliness. The concept of the universe as a random, meaningless place was expressed on the earthly level by the theory of evolution: the mutations that determine the course of life on earth, and indeed the very creation of humankind, were revealed to be largely fortuitous events.”

Since the modern mind denies an underlying cosmic order—denies, that is, that the world is a Creation of a Creator—artistic forms are regarded as arbitrary and capricious expressions of entirely personal imaginations. Any effort by teachers, parents, or church leaders to train the taste—especially musical taste—can only be understood as an unwarranted exercise of power. “Elitism” is the charge commonly leveled at such efforts, since, as music critic Julian Johnson has observed, in our day, “in matters of musical judgment, the individual can be the only authority.”

Christian educators, indeed all Christians , need to examine more critically this assumption of the modern mind. As Johnson explains, the view that musical taste is purely private and subjective is a peculiarly modern assumption.

This is in sharp contrast to the relatively minor status of individual ‘taste’ in Western musical practice and aesthetics from the ancient Greeks until the late eighteenth century. To an earlier age, our contemporary idea of a complete relativism
in musical judgment would have seemed nonsensical. One could no more make valid individual judgments about music than about science. Music was no more ‘a matter of taste’ than was the orbit of the planets or the physiology of the human body. From Plato to Helmholtz, music was understood to be based on natural laws, and its value was derived from its capacity to frame and elaborate these laws in musical form. Its success was no more a matter of subjective judgment than the laws themselves.

Our belief about making judgments about quality in any art form is now captive to what art critic Jed Perl has called “laissez-faire aesthetics,” which, he writes, “has left us with a weakening of all conviction, an unwillingness to take stands, a reluctance to champion, or surrender to, any first principle.” This relativism in aesthetic judgment is simply a part of a larger modern suspicion about all value judgments, a suspicion that has been described by Alasdair MacIntyre and others as “emotivism,” “the doctrine,” as MacIntyre explains, “that all evaluative judgments and more specifically all moral judgments are nothing but expressions of preference, expressions of attitude or feeling, insofar as they are moral or evaluative in character.”

The displacement of many of our society’s artistic standards by the enchantments of entertainment is an indication of cultural decline with a complicated set of causes. Among them is an ever-more radical celebration of the autonomy of the individual self and a hostility toward authority; an increasing suspicion that the past has anything useful or instructive to offer us; a growing impatience with cultural pursuits that are demanding on our time or intellectual effort; an aversion to the idea of cultivation and a celebration of forms of expression that are untutored, instinctual, and allegedly “authentic”; and a fascination with anything “transgressive” coupled with cynicism toward the maintenance of a tradition.

It is the flourishing of these mentalities that has led to “laissez-faire aesthetics,” and to the indifference within our society to the greatest achievements of the Western cultural tradition. In his 2007 commencement address at Stanford, National Endowment for the Arts chairman Dana Gioia commented on this forfeiting of artistic opportunities: “I worry about a culture that bit by bit trades off the challenging pleasures of art for the easy comforts of entertainment. And that is exactly what is happening—not just in the media, but in our schools and civic life.”

And it is happening in our churches as well. The Church once assumed a role of cultural leadership, believing that it should set a good example for her neighbors, not just in morality and theology, but in forms of aesthetic expression: in architecture, in poetry, in art, and in music. Today, it is a rare congregation in America that assumes that responsibility.

This negligence has very sad consequences for the Church’s testimony. If we add momentum to the prevailing assumption in our culture that our engagement with Creation—including the sonic order in which music resides—is to be defined only by personal preference, and not by something actually residing in the nature of things, how can we hope to bear witness to a Sovereign Creator who ordered all of reality, and who stands in judgment against those who reject his ordering of things?

Music is a great and unique gift from God, and the Western musical tradition that developed into what we commonly call classical music was in significant ways shaped by the influence of the Church in its desire to cultivate the full and remarkable capacities of this gift. By failing to sustain a mature appreciation for the capacities of music within the Christian community, we lose one of the greatest resources God has given us to assist in bearing witness to his glory and to something of the glorious order he has imparted to Creation. Christian students are in need of the training of affections with regard to beauty no less than with truth or goodness, although they are culturally disposed to resent it even more. But particularly with regard to music: if music really is the unique merging of spiritual and material, of temporal and eternal, of intellectual and emotional realities, if it is the perpetual activity of angels and the eternal destiny of the redeemed, then its capacities shouldn’t suffer from neglect or carelessness or expediency or impatience. Like the Kingdom to which it bears witness, it is a pearl of great price, worthy of sacrifice, diligence, and joyous discovery.

Training the Affections: Inviting Students to Love Great Music

As modern American culture trends towards shorter (and flashier) media presentations, our society-including the church- is at risk of losing the common language of the great works in music and the fine arts. Our children are increasingly less familiar with the beauty of music and lack of attention skills and knowledge to understand the seminal works of Bach through 20th century Jazz. Classical education is the ideal environment to nurture young apprentices in the art of listening and, ultimately, to become creators of new material to glorify God. In this seminar, we will explore creative and practical ways to train students to discern artistry and become lovers and advocates of great music and the fine arts.

Lilli Benko

With a B.A. in Music and Rhetoric/Communication Studies from the University of Virginia, Lilli received her formative training in violin with Ronda Respess (Atlanta Symphony), participated in summer festivals at the Brevard School of Music and Indiana University School of Music, and served as concertmaster and first violinist for various youth orchestras and quartets. She actively performs in Richmond area chamber ensembles, theater orchestras and is a member of her worship team at West End Presbyterian Church. Lilli is living her ‘dream day job’ as a Director of Arts Education which enables her to teach and design music curriculum at Veritas in Richmond, Virginia. ”I am thrilled to work alongside an immensely talented and dedicated faculty in cultivating students’ a ections for God’s glory through the fine and performing arts.” Lilli relishes the daily adventure and joys of shepherding Win (13) and Tad (6) alongside her husband, Ma .

The Beauty of Teaching Music Classically

Ms. Love explains how to encourage all ages of students to hear, understand, and personalize great works. She outlines how to provide the necessary historic, scientific, and thematic context before listening to a piece. Ms. Love demonstrates how to use recognition and “the art of music naming”. In addition, Ms. Love guides educators to see that Jesus is woven throughout all creation and that educators must “keep him in the conversation” as they teach. Ms. Love encourages educators to consider that God created music “good” and that He made us able to understand, appreciate, and create music for His glory alone.

Nancy Love

Nancy Love has a BS from Bemidji State University, MN in Music and Elementary Education. She taught elementary music in public schools in North Dakota and Minnesota before she took a missionary position as a music educator at Rift Valley School in Kenya, East Africa. During her 20 years at the boarding school for children of missionaries. Ms, Love created and developed the elementary music program, an elementary choral program, wrote curriculum for general music classes, and directed a variety of performances. Ms. Love also worked briefly in the Seychelles, Islands in the Indian Ocean, organizing, creating and developing national grammar school choral ensembles for the Seychellois government under the auspices of the Conservatoire of Seychelles. Since 2004, Ms. Love has been a lower school music educator at Hill Country Christian School of Austin where she has worked with teachers to develop a music program that is integrated with classroom studies.

Beethoven meets Sayers: The Classical Value of High School Chorus and Band

What are the real reasons music is so vitally important in education; especially classical learning? How can it be used to further the search for truth and beauty and to transmit our cultural legacy to future generations.

John Heaton

John Heaton is a native of Orlando, Florida. He has concluded his 20th year as the second Headmaster of New Covenant Schools in Lynchburg, Virginia. New Covenant is a classical Christian School serving around 450 students in Pre-K through 12th Grade.

Walker Pennock

Mr. Pennock has teaching experience in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. He has also performed professionally in local symphonies and stage productions.