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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Of Stools and Music

This week, with Ligonier's release of Ligonier Sinfonia, marks the 3rd CD I have been involved with in recent years. You may ask, why make a CD? 

Bad reason: an overdeveloped sense of importance, a desire to produce something of lasting beauty when I leave this planet. Nada.

Better reason: to mirror the singular majesty and glory of the God who invented sound by producing something of beauty. I consciously put a recording together for that reason. How does it work? 

Both recent CDs (God of Grace and Glory, 2008; Ligonier Sinfonia: Music of the High Baroque, 2009) have been produced by Ligonier, a frankly evangelical, Christian (nonprofit) that offers many CDs on its website. Why is this significant? For me, it all begins with a moment 12 years ago. 

It occurred to many of us at Church Music at a Crossroads in 1997 at Covenant College, that we have a wide gap between musicians and marketers in American religious culture. We often commercialize not only worship music, but all things spiritual, in the name of 'outreach.' No matter how much we may avoid it, our music is entertainment at some rudimentary level, especially in a media/marketing culture. Instead, we decided Christian artists need to emphasize the beauty that we believe exists not only in the sound produced, but in the ideas expressed in the process. In other words, we want our music to have meaning beyond merely being appealing, soul-stirring sound. We especially desire that our music glorify God. That is the hard part. 

 Since that time I have been reminded repeatedly of a 3-legged stool by friends and fans of the Augustinian and later Medieval views of aesthetics. That is, a well-tuned musical product consists not only of beauty, but also truth and goodness. 

Music that reveals a mixture of truth, goodness, and beauty is like the three legs of a stool.  In its truth it is technically excellent and well-crafted by way of its harmony, melody, rhythm, form, and texture --it is clearly an analog for the eternal truth of the gospel. In its goodness it reflects the intentional (very important --not merely chance) love of God in creating humans, and then providing a plan of redemption for us after the Fall.  And, in its beauty it reflects the yearning of the Holy Spirit for his redeemed people.

In a perfect world, we make sense of creation, we sell CDs along with that, and pay the people who produced the little boxes and the covers. We involve ourselves in the marketplace. When we do it well, God may in his providence use the CD to enrich the lives of people who listen to it, and everyone is served. 

I hope you will take a minute to check out the two Ligonier CDs --listen to the online samples. Although visually a bunch of plastic and paper, they emit sonic waves that I hope somehow reflect the true, the good, and the beautiful. Then you are enriched. Then the surrounding culture is enriched by you and others.  

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