Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The music, it does nothing!

I had a strange musical experience over the weekend. On Saturday night I watched Doctor Who At The Proms. It's all about the music of the show, with some theatrics thrown in for good measure. I've liked the show since I was a child and watch the current series when it's on, but even I was surprised when one of the pieces nearly brought me to tears. I was overjoyed to hear it in all its musical glory, without it being just a support to the visuals of TV.

The next morning, however, I was in church. It's a church with lots of music. The service starts with music and the music keeps going. I haven't timed it, but I guess that there's music playing for well more than half the service. We sing it, it plays under some of the speaking, and it's a soundtrack to the announcements.* Nevertheless, even though it's so deeply entwined with religious conviction, I'm sorry to say that it does nothing for me. In fact, it leaves me quite flat.

None of this is limited to Doctor Who, by the way. It's also true of some songs by Michael Franti, Ben Harper, The Herd, and so on.

So why? Here's the list of current hypotheses.

  • The Christian music just isn't as good. Maybe the writers are less skilled.
  • The chord progressions. With the right chord progression, songs feel different.
  • Rhythm correlates with mystical experience, so I block the feelings from the music and throw the musical baby out with the musical bathwater.
  • I don't agree with the lyrics, so the rest of the song becomes meaningless and pointless.
  • The way music is used in church (e.g., music = worship, music coincides with the presence of God) is formulaic rather than spontaneous.

All in all, something isn't right with the religious music I hear. I just don't like it; it holds little aesthetic interest. Perhaps that stops the music from becoming an idol for me (even if it's an idol for others), but that seems unlikely.

How about you? What's your experience of religious music and secular music? What does it do for you?

* As I write this, I remember reading that the X-Files' relationship with music was a bit like this. The percentage of that show with music is much higher than nearly every other show on TV. No parallels to be drawn, this is just a curious footnote.

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