Monday, August 26, 2013

Coming up for air

Today I made my first editorial pass on a very rough draft of the third chapter of my thesis. Coming up for air, I'd love to write up several book reviews and commentaries on my reading from the past two months. For now, I'll simply cite this tantalizing quotation from Laurence Dreyfuss, Bach and the Patterns of Invention. Styles, he says, "lend a special identity to a genre by imparting a specific meaning congruent with the kind's values." (page 193)

Now, this has something significant to do with my thesis. It also speaks to my personal, grander project (my soap-box, if you will), namely, that musical composition - including style and genre - is not theologically neutral.

In my reading and writing for this chapter I have been excited to stumble upon current literature that takes seriously the idea that music (that is, the stuff of composition, independent of text) has the potential to carry meaning. OK, yes, it is a little irresponsible to just set that out there without all the cautions and guidelines that keep us from going overboard with this. But the literature does exercise that caution, and my job in the thesis is to mind my step and keep the guidelines in front of me.

What interests me and excites me most is that the various authors come at this subject from differing disciplines and philosophical perspectives. And none are explicitly religious, which (it may be surprising to say) actually bolsters the argument I make in my theological thesis. However, at the same time I have heard excellent lectures by Ken Myers, who makes exactly these points, from a Christian perspective:
Epiphany Lectures "Ears to Hear: The Possibilities of Musical Meaning."

I'm pretty sure they are lectures during the Epiphany season, but they will be epiphanous for many listeners. The lectures are each an hour long, so - you know - you probably won't have time to listen to all four. If you care to, Lecture 3 - "Form, Meaning, and Listening" - is a good place to start. Lectures 3 and 4 are a good place to go if one is generally literate musically. Those interested in the big idea, but with little musical knowledge would do well to begin at the beginning. (That is, if you always and only listen to songs that last about 3 minutes, you will benefit from the whole series.) If I had my way, every ministry staff in every Christian church would listen to Lecture 3, together, and talk about it, with a music staff person and/or a music professor. Even if this were a single stand-alone lecture in a M.Div program, I have to believe it would begin to make a modest impact on the way pastors think about music in worship. But to be clear: these are NOT lectures about church music!

Look for more from the reading, now that I am in editing mode.

Laurence Dreyfuss, Bach and the Patterns of Invention. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004.

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