On Music: Ward Howard

I figured I’d face the music from Lowell if I didn’t share my thoughts on aurality, so here goes! (As a quick note, this post will be a bit less formal than some of the other, more idea-centred posts on the blog.) According to Aaron Copland, music has three components- sensory, emotive, and technical components. As I did not play any instruments or study music in any significant way until college, my early musical formation dealt mainly with the sensory and emotive components. The physical effects of music may be powerful, but the emotion of music is what drew me in. It made me feel, made me stop, made me think. As I child, my only musical experience was Christian Contemporary Music (CCM), which was lyrically decent and a good place to start, but often terribly performed in hindsight. In high school, however, I went on a mission trip where our worship leader was like none I had ever encountered before. He drew his music directly from his meditations on Scripture and time spent with the Lord, creating fresh, fun, and convicting music that went straight to the heart and pricked it unto joy. He sang in the most worshipful, God-besotted way I had ever experienced, and and showed me what it meant to “rejoice in the Lord” through Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Simultaneously, I discovered Kutless, and a love affair with hard rock commenced. Both types of music encouraged and convicted throughout high school, and I love both still. I also discovered my first favorite “secular” (really, everything expresses a spirituality of some sort) band, Boston. They sang of love and loss and were just plain catchy. (Who can resist the melancholy awesomeness of desire that is More Than a Feeling?)

Up to my first semester of college, my experience with  music was passive. I rarely wrote songs and had no idea how to play an instrument. That all changed over fall break of freshman year, when I hung out with a room-mate from Saint Louis for the week. We went to the United States premier of a classical work at Powell Hall and listened to expert performances of many other pieces. I loved it. However, the truly significant take-away from the trip was much smaller- ukelele-sized in fact. My friend’s family taught me how to play a few basic chords of “Jesus Loves Me” and I figured out how to rock out on the thing a bit as well. It came really quickly to me, and I caught an inkling of what I’d been missing my whole life. I was hooked. By the end of the following year, I had picked up acoustic guitar pretty well and was learning electric too. I taught myself, after a month of guided lessons, primarily off of simple worship music. Once I got down the muscle memory and got over the callous-building on my fingers, the joy of singing and playing my heart out to the Lord opened up in a new way. I struggle with besetting sins of anxiety and doubt, and playing the songs of faith and trust in Jesus were one of the main things that got me through some difficult times following that. According to my room-mates, my monotone singing and terrible pitch improved vastly over that year as well. Once I learned the notes and chords by heart, the ability to put words to music opened up as well, and I found out what a blessing putting the deepest longings and truths I knew to music is. My inspiration in this was that worship music from earlier (which was by Aaron Keyes, by the way- I didn’t want to mention the name earlier, as that was not the point, but please do check out his stuff! Here, here, and DEFINITELY here!)

Meanwhile, the incorrigible metal lover Seth Brake, who already posted on music, here, introduced me to something I had expected to hate, but instead loved: the intense yet melodic subgenre of power metal. Lowell and Seth have already adequately described the power metal scene pretty well in their posts, so I’ll skip over that except to say that many such bands (Nightwish and Hammerfall, for instance) correctly diagnoses the world’s problems, expressed succinctly by G.K. Chesterton in a letter to the editor about the cause of the world’s woes:

G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton

Dear Sirs:

I am.

Sincerely Yours,

G. K. Chesterton.

What I yearned for, however, was music that expressed the hope for the coming of justice and meaning in the Cosmos, rather than just the problems, or existentialism (a la Nightwish) or pagan solutions (a la Hammerfall). When Luke Brake, Seth’s brother, introduced me to Theocracy, I found one of my favorite bands to date. Up to this point, I was ambivalent in some dark corner of my mind whether heavy music could be worship music. Those questions were settled once for all by songs from this group, like I AM, Absolution Day, and As the World Bleeds.  The quality of their music is definitely on par with any “secular” band out there I’ve heard, and once you become familiar with the style, the words (power metal does not scream, but is usually fast-paced and high-pitched) become much more understandable to the power-metal initiate.

On a final, but unrelated, note, I have to say how amazing soundtracks are, how emotionally gripping they can be, and how they are really the lasting significance of the classical tradition alive today, as Postmodern music is displeasing to most people’s ears and is really music by the modernist musician and for the modernist musician, unlike the classical music of old, which was more for the masses than the current set. I have loved a good soundtrack since I was old enough to know what one was.

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