Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Splash cold water on your vocal cords

I have made a case, and continue to make the case, that music offers a unique way of knowing--of knowing experience, one another, God. It's a hot idea, apparently, one that Michael Linton would like us to question and resist a lot more. Here's a bit from Linton's review of Jeremy Begbie's latest book. When Begbie argues that music can have a profound effect on human behavior, Linton writes:

Well, no. Not really, or not quite. Music's proven effect upon behavior isn't profound; it's actually pretty trivial. The tempo of particular kinds of music played in particular kinds of grocery stores can affect the speed in which shoppers will generally move through the aisles (but it isn't particularly good at selling individual products: funny animated critters are better—think of that lizard selling car insurance). And like the Chippendale furniture and brass sconces in the law office that suggest sober stability, music can be used as décor. As décor it can do all the things that décor can do: set mood, play upon cultural memory, suggest appropriate behavior—but music cannot dictate behavior any more than the furniture can get you to sign a contract if you don't want to. And relationships between parents and peers play the pivotal role in an adolescent's formation, not music. Music is a means of expressing those relationships.

I think it's good to have this tempered view. Music is just music, sound given significance by individuals and by a tradition. It is not salvation or love or God. Does it work uniquely? I think so. Am I too much of an advocate? Probably. Do I want Michael Linton planning the music at my church? No.

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