Do you practice your beliefs? Do you live the way that your faith says you should live? Does your musical life also conform to that belief?
Difficult to Call It Religion
As the ideas for this list of Wholesome Musical Priorities began to develop in my mind, as a teacher, it was difficult for me to call the first priority “religion.” To me, “religion” had always been a bad word. As a christian, the word “religion” and how it is used today represents in my mind all of the bad stuff associated with religion and none of the good. But I had to remind myself that not all of my students are going to be Christians. So what do I call it if not “religion”?
I believe that people should live according to their beliefs. Your religion should not just be another club where you pay your membership dues. It shouldn’t just be a cultural identity nor a social association. Your beliefs, your faith, should be your moral compass. It should be a way of life for you.
Music As Part of Your Morality
And when you approach your musical studies, you should know before you start where YOUR music fits in the context of that faith. I emphasize the word YOUR because I am not insinuating that everything you do in music is of a religious nature. There are plenty of non-religious reasons to learn an instrument, but that doesn’t mean that music is something altogether separate from your religion.
This is a very important point, probably the most important point I’ll be making in this post. You don’t have to be a church musician to submit your musical studies to the morality of your religious beliefs. For example, if your religion teaches you to put others first, then this should dictate the way you behave in secular performance situations. Someone who puts others first will not aggressively seek attention or applause for himself.
When you practice what I call the “Wholesome Musical Priorities”, the way you approach your music should be governed by the moral standards of your religious belief. I cannot speak for other religions, but I know that it is common for us as Christians to behave as if our religion doesn’t apply to certain areas of our lives. A very common example of this is people who feel like their faith has nothing to do with the way the conduct their business lives or their sex lives. The truth is that your religious beliefs should apply to every area of your life, and that includes your music.
God First In All Things
In the context of your musical priorities, putting God first is more than just using church as an excuse not to practice. Each day we are confronted with dozens of decisions. When we make a commitment to live our lives in accordance with our religious and moral dictates, then those values are what make it easy for us to make the right choice at each branch in our daily paths.
Our musical lives do not, or should not, fall outside of our moral compasses. Nothing should! Beginning with the initial decision to learn and instrument in the first place, everything about our musical lives should be consistent with our religious beliefs.
I had an adult student, years ago, who told me he was going to leave his wife because she was not as understanding about his music as he wanted her to be. I think it was this student who prompted me to begin teaching about these musical priorities. When he told me he was thinking about divorce, because of his music, I explained to him that he had it all backwards. Then I told him that he was officially fired as my student and that he could call me again for lessons when he had worked things out with his wife. I took it all very seriously.
As a Christian, divorce doesn’t only hurt your spouse and your family, it also offends God. My student’s was an extreme case of putting music before religion. Anything we do to put music first, before God, is not only bad for us and the people in our lives, but also bad for our music…the very thing we think we love so much.
Music Is An Expression of Who We Are
It’s very important to understand that music is an expression of who we are. When we put music first in our lives, before our faith, before our religion, before God, we put ourselves in a position where our music becomes meaningless. The man or woman who makes music first above all other things in life is someone who has no life worth expressing.
I like to look at this from a programming perspective. A musicians who behaves as if music is his religion is like a recursive function that loops on itself. For those of you who are not into computer programming, a “recursive function” is a section of code that calls itself from within itself. If music is an expression of who we are, but music is also our religion, we establish an unhealthy loop. In programming, a recursive function quickly steals resources, eventually to a point where the entire computer crashes. In our musical life, this kind of musical theism renders our music and our lives completely irrelevant, eventually leading to the same kind of crash.
We have to live life before we can tell the world about it. I believe that the better we live our lives, the more meaningful thoughts and ideas we can share with our audiences, the better our music will be. I believe that living according to your faith is the most important step towards living that kind of life.
Music In The Church
I don’t believe you have to be a church musician for your music to be submitted to your religious beliefs. However, being part of a praise team or church orchestra is your opportunity to present your music to God as a offering. When you play music at church, it becomes a lot more than just your ability to express yourself. You become part of a corporate expression of praise and worship. As part of the music ministry at your church, you become part of the spiritual leadership in that church.
Yes, I do believe you are still expressing yourself in church. The difference is the audience. In a secular performance, we are expressing ourselves to the people in the audience. In church, praising God, we are expressing ourselves, as part of the congregation, to God.
This changes everything. When we express ourselves to God, I don’t believe it can be about entertaining Him. In other words, what sounds entertaining to us in the congregation should have nothing to do with how we approach praise and worship. I would even go as far as to say that if you objective when you “perform” is to entertain (or impress) the audience, then you are probably not praising God in that moment.
That said, praising God is not about how well you play your instrument. It’s not about how well you play in tune or anything like that. If your objective is to praise God through your music, then you should want to give him your very best. And that means that you should never stop growing as a musician. You should always continue to make progress because THAT is your best. But you must know that none of us are “good enough” to impress God with our musical talents.
This also means that you will never be good enough to criticize someone else’s musical abilities in the context of praising God. We all fall short of the glory of God. It is not our abilities that make the difference in praising Him. Instead, it is the love in our hearts. We should want to give God our very best, but when other people don’t live up to our standards, we must always remember that even our own “very best” is not enough to impress our Creator. We are all in the same boat.
Music should never be the most important thing in our lives. Whatever your religion is, make a serious effort to live according to that morality. When you do that first, your music will change. When you put God first, you will have a life worth expressing.