Maestro, Music, Misuse

Pat, David and I recently attended a concert featuring classical guitarist Hector Garcia.  Maestro Garcia is eighty-three years old and probably does not have many concerts left.  He might live to be a hundred or so, but to prepare a full solo concert is energy draining even for the young.  I didn’t want to miss what might be his last even though we had to drive the five hundred miles.  I was able to talk to him during intermission and even have a picture taken with him.

Garcia came to my former city as a young man fresh out of prison in Cuba.  He was part of an “army” of Cubans who were killed and captured in the ill-fated “Bay of Pigs” invasion in an attempt to take back the homeland from communist Fidel Castro.

He astounded local aspiring guitarists, including myself, with demonstrations of world-class ability.  Before long he had a full schedule of students, also including myself, as he built legendary status in the city, eventually becoming internationally known and professor of guitar at the university.  My interests suddenly changed from commercial music playing to being immersed in classical guitar and it’s attending literature.  We all wanted to play like Maestro Garcia.

But, alas, it was not to be.  Even the best of intentions and hard work will not take the place of giftedness that defies the normal.  None of his students, of whom I am aware, ever reached his level of artistry and performance.  Although the program of his recent performance was “light,” out of necessity, his decades of performance and experience can turn the simple into elegant.

Music is perceived mentally and emotionally.  Trained musicians often will experience music both ways, while the untrained are mainly affected emotionally, either by words, music or rhythm and often all three.  The power of these elements is sometimes unexplainable.  It can cause people to fall in love, fall out of love, commit suicide and even murder.  It plays with one’s emotions and psyche unlike most mediums are able.  This brings me to my main focus.

Current contemporary Christian praise and worship music has its roots in commercial music mainly “rock.”  I know you’re now thinking “Oh gosh, here we go.”  I use the term “rock” music in a generic sense that takes in a variety of styles including a wide spectrum of sounds.  With the exception of “Country,” most popular commercial music could fall loosely under that label.

Churches began experimenting with popular sounding music decades ago to attract a younger group that would not be drawn to traditional hymnology.  It has now “degraded” to the point where it is not possible to differentiate between the sound of “rock” music and contemporary Christian, in many instances.  It was very telling when a person not familiar with this type of “Christian” music commented to me that a church service sounded like a “rock concert.”

On the site www.wayoflife.org, is an article titled “Rock & Roll and Mysticism” by David Cloud, that gives a myriad of quotes by world famous musicians, and others, describing their views of the powerful effects of the music.  They refer to feelings with the terms like being drugged, hypnotized, religious, mystical, high and others.  Often they would say the words are not as important as the music and rhythm.  This last part is, I believe, one of the problems.

A growing “cutting edge” church in Virginia recently experimented with switching to a DJ for worship service.  The pastor commented that he was surprised no one had tried it before.  He believes most praise and worship has gotten too commonplace with their use of “rock” bands (his words) and wonders what the next phase will be.  His DJ played contemporary “Christian” music as well as secular.  He commented that most of his attendees are familiar with hip-hop so he wanted some music they could enjoy.

And so it goes.  If you want to market what you’re selling, you can’t be left behind with a product that is outdated and “so yesterday.”  In our small, little conservative community, I’m happy to announce that one of our churches now has a fog machine, or so I’m told.  I recall decades ago when I heard the Gospel and responded to God’s forgiveness and the fog indeed lifted and I began to see clearly.  What an almost comical twist of irony.  And it happened without a rock band, latte, fog machine or dimmed lights, imagine that?

We do have some new hymn writers, though, and their music is refreshing.  The lyrics present the Gospel in powerful ways and are theologically accurate.  That is in contrast to most current popular praise music that is “feeling” oriented and if not incorrect theologically, is blatantly blasphemous.  The line in one “praise” song, “heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss,” is hardly Biblical.  If fact many churches, wanting to keep the song, have changed that line, but not our church.  The writer’s explanation for the line is unconvincing.

One of the aforementioned “new” hymns, contained the line, “ The wrath of God was satisfied.”  Before the Presbyterian Church (USA) would include it in their hymnal, which they wanted to do, that line had to be changed to, “The love of God was magnified.”  To their credit, the authors refused.  While they (Presbyterians) claimed a fine theological distinction, it points out the trend of viewing God as love, which He is, and dispensing with His wrath and judgment, which He does, and will, enact.  This is a move toward a more “emergent” universalism and away from Biblical truth.

And finally (aren’t you glad?), when elements of praise music emphasize sound, rhythm and repetition, it becomes emotional manipulation, of sorts.  It’s sort of like a pep-rally or rock concert where the purpose, explicitly or implicitly, is to work people up into an emotional high.  Is emotion part of the praise and worship experience?  Yes, of course, but not the main dynamic.

For the born-again Christian there is another dimension of perception besides emotional and mental, and that is spiritual.  When the Gospel and it’s attending response and effects are presented authentically in song (and any other way), and God’s Spirit witnesses with our spirit that we are His children, then our entire being is blessed, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.  But this last part is unique.  The music matters not.  No substitute, no hype, no fluff.  The Living Presence of the Holy Spirit can bypass any purely human response or limitation and provide “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. I wondered what happened to my old guitar instructor and googled you. Wow, you have had three lives! I thought you were a great instructor and MUST have gone on to professional guitar stardom! Alas! I went on to pursue drums, but only as a past time. I always go back to guitar and pick up… where I began… and end where I ended, never improving much, but maintaining at least that level. hahaha. I still have your book (it’s a GREAT book! and you should reprint it! ) that I consult along with my old Mel Bay books from scores ago. I love that I took up the classical guitar and found a good instructor. I am doing my 2-4 year review of guitar again. But this time I hope to go on a little further. You were a great inspiration. I may never be a maestro, but maybe I can at least play at some open mic get togethers… we’ll see! Thanks Alan! PS – inspiring blogs.

  2. Well, what a pleasant surprise. Please let me know when and where you were a student. I taught in so many different places and varied settings it’s sometimes difficult to pinpoint a certain one. Yes, I have had at least three lives as I have often joked about, though not reincarnated. It is so difficult to get really, really good at anything especially playing an instrument. Progress can continue after hitting a plateau, but only with much time and effort. But it sounds like you progressed enough to enjoy playing well enough to perform, and that is the exception, so congratulations! And yes, you are right about those of us seriously infected with the music bug. We all dream of stardom until that ever present reality sets in to temper our exuberance. Thank you for contacting me, and your kind compliments.

  3. It was at Farley’s Music on Juan Tabo. I haven’t performed on the guitar, just the drums. But I plan on getting good enough to perform – just small gratis cafe performances for those who don’t know any better. But the guitar is much much more difficult than the drums ever were! I would pick up the guitar every year or two and review what I’d learned. I am 51 now, and decided I needed and wanted to learn more… time to move it up or move it out. lol Drums are getting a bit difficult to play, and the guitar is still here as beautiful as ever. I had wanted to learn classical as a background for rock, but fell in love with the discipline of it, the fingering style and the music itself. I only picked out the classical guitar because I thought it was the most beautiful. I admire this little guitar daily… yes, same guitar – screaming at me to practice!

  4. Thanks Julie, Farley’s Music was my last studio before relocating. I have such fond memories of many students who passed through. I would just say that most people really appreciate live music regardless of the degree of difficulty. If one plays simple music well it is beautiful. Good luck and thank you for contacting me.

  5. I took lessons for about 9 months. Quit because we were going to be on trips most of the summer – with the promise that I’d get to start again once school started, my parents didn’t honor that promise. I was super quiet, tomboy and was constantly tapping my feet, tapping the chair with my feet (nervous drummer). Anyway, yes, I love music and I believe even amateur performances can be enjoyable ;). As for your blog here… I really don’t like music in church. I feel it is a distraction. Something to make people want to be there. Modern Christian Rock, however used, I find as a healthy alternative to some Rock/Pop/ Hip Hop with suggestive lyrics. At least in the non-church environment.

    Well, yes, I was always curious, because I always wanted to follow up on my lessons. I was hoping you were still teaching – Ha! Has it really been 37 years?!?! Already?!?! I have finally found a nice online site to help me progress beyond my 14 yr old education, lol. I thank you sir, you were a fine instructor. I have not forgotten a single thing… just a little rusty 😉 Good luck to you!

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