Of music

When I left university with a First Class music degree, I had endured many complications through rejecting the current course of Classical music. My total aversion to composition based on dissonance and discord meant that I was at odds with the current trends my love of harmony was deemed backward. I coped with this in the knowledge that “ordinary” people know better and I determined to write for them.

The time since my graduation is little more than a decade. Perhaps my perception was wrong then. Or perhaps things have changed rapidly. But the “ordinary” people cannot be relied on to preserve a more warm and pleasant taste in music. Time and time again, my scores are sent back for review because the production company’s client says my music is wrong. Sometimes this is a red herring - a client playing a mini power game, whereby it needs to find a fault before sign-off. But it is too common to be just that. The music is rejected if there are harmonic changes that develop over 8 bars, the music is rejected if there is a melody more than 4 notes, the music is rejected if it attempts to reinforce changes in the visuals, the music is rejected if there is not a continuous droning rhythm in the background. This is therefore not a matter of style but of musicality. In order to satisfy clients (who in turn are applying their musical judgment on behalf of their customers) the background music must attempt to say nothing. It should be a forceful sound, it should be confident, and it must be meaningless.

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This is beyond challenging for a composer - not because it is impossible to satisfy such a brief (banal though it is) but because to do so would mean setting aside all the skills of the composer. Just this week I received an invitation to trial a new software programme of an AI Composer’s Assistant. I would put in the parameters and the machine would “write” a track. Of course, there is no reason for any musical knowledge if that is all that is involved. And I am sure that the computer would write something with the appropriate treadmill effect to please the average listener today.

Once upon a time, the Salvation Army could stand outside a strip club and attract people by their harmony in song. Perhaps it was merely their propaganda, but they claimed some left the club because the music on the street was better. It requires no endorsement of the Army or the saving properties of music to observe that this could not happen now. People do not hear things in the same way. Where there is still appreciation for melodies and harmonies it is usually because the music has been known for a long time.

While this is a problem commercially, it does not affect the truth about music.

From my scribbling book

From my scribbling book

I have enjoyed setting and memorising as many metrical Psalms as possible in the last year. There is no better way to get the words into your head. And, having the words there, you can contemplate on them when your hands are busy and your mind is idle. The song is there to be sung. It is true. The melody helps you learn. With a few exceptions, I am composing new melodies for each Psalm to aid in memorisation. Then, when time permits, I scribble down a version in a blunting pencil.

As a Christian musician I do not want prizes, I do not want fame, I do not want praise. For the sake of bread and butter, it is necessary to display skill and to try to be paid. But these Psalms are what matter. My scribbling book could be lost and yet I would still know them. Wherever I am, I can praise the Lord in words He accepts. There is no higher purpose for a musician’s skill, nothing which makes us feel so inadequate to the task. And striving thus for his glory, the fickle whims of clients are seen in their true perspective.

The Alignment of Romanticism and Roman Catholicism

England apostatised through Romanticism. It was a suitable portal because it did not appear to be a religion. Most people did not even know the term - they just became obsessively interested in literature, art, music and architecture. Once their interest was captured, the English became very jealous over their right to enjoy the Arts. Ultimately, in 1870, they fought the clergy over the right of the people to have a concert in a cathedral rather than a sermon. The people won and there was no turning back.

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Songs for suffering hearts

As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather, and as vinegar upon nitre, so is he that singeth songs to an heavy heart. ~ Proverbs 25.20

When Donald Trump was elected President of the United States of America, many of the artistic types in my social media feed merged into a single repetitive voice: On the one hand, they thought the world had come to an abrupt end; on the other hand, they believed that the inevitable misery would be good for Art.

You see, they believe that Art comes from suffering. (By having their will crossed in a political verdict, they think they are suffering.) They also believe that, if they make music, recite poetry and tell stories in the face of evil, then their Art will atone for the sins of the world. 

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The Romantic: Someone who looks for spiritual truth in material things

Since most people are unaware of their own “Romantic” attitudes, the following definitions have been prepared to bring home the practical outworking of Romanticism in our lives today. Anyone who would like to understand the origins of Romanticism should read Tim Blanning’s rather uncritical work, The Romantic Revolution. In Music Mania I demonstrate how music became the exclusive domain of the Romantic movement.

This philosophy appears to be innocent and inoffensive but over time it perverts our perception of truth and destroys our ability to find truth outside of material things. For the Christian this engenders a change from living by faith through the Word of God, to trusting the Art of Man and therefore living by the senses.

If you had once walked in Christendom as “someone who expects to find spiritual truth in material things” you would have been deemed an idolater. After all, what does the idolater do that the Romantic does not? Either you make art or you purchase it from someone else, with the goal of gaining spiritual enlightenment outside of God’s appointed means. 

Not everyone will demonstrate every aspect here defined because people are never consistent. However, Romanticism is often stronger in women than in men, giving rise to a dislocation between the sexes that was unknown before the Enlightenment. Then the difference between the sexes was one of roles in the world - now we have communication problems based on a woman’s desire to live in a Romanticised bubble and a man’s inability to make it happen.

In broader terms, Romanticism encourages people to live selfishly and diminishes their capacity to judge other people’s needs. (The Romantic person will be moved by a television appeal for famine relief in Africa but will be unable to see the mum struggling to afford the weekly shop at the next checkout.) Therefore it has dulled our characters and left us as wraiths. We are sometimes awoken to reality by the magnitude of problems we cannot avoid (sickness, death, tragedy) and it is at such times that we realise the inadequacy of the Romanticised mind. If we cannot find a way to feel good, then who are we and what is left of our lives? Therefore Romanticism is nothing more than well-dressed Humanism, ivy climbing around the tree of our faith, to sap our hope in Christ and make us glad of the ivy’s supportive embrace.