It was with some concern that I recently read a review of a manual on how to teach piano to the glory of God. My concern was not with the review; it was thoughtful and well-written. But I question why something like this manual was written at all. The informational value of the book aside (I haven’t read it), this approach to Christianity, which includes things like the Sacred Piano Course method, is rather narrow and exclusive. Are materials like these more valid because they have a few Christian words attached? Is this what brings God glory?
This is part of a larger way of thinking (call it a world view, if you like). Can we separate music – the creation, performance, and passing it on to students – into the inherently sacred and secular? The history books do, and our church childrens’ programs do when they take popular songs and change a few words to Christianize them, as if life and music were things to be sorted into sacred and secular boxes. But I believe that a perceived need to justify music or art by inserting a Bible verse is the result of too low a view of God and art. To quote the title of a book by Hans Rookmaaker, “Art Needs No Justification.”
The Creator of the universe gave us music as the most natural human response, as a tangible way of expressing thanks or sorrow when we are moved by the world around us. Does all music then glorify God? Probably not, but that’s not my call to make.
On Good Friday I wrote that a composer/organist/choral director whom I know had said that his music and his faith were inseparable. At first blush this seemed sacriligeous but by now I’m inclined to agree. I am a Christian and a musician and both permeate everything I think and do. Music is my most natural and profound expression of faith.
I’ll let Bach via Leonard Bernstein (in The Joy of Music) have the last word:
“For Bach, all music was religion; writing it was an act of faith, and performing it was an act of worship. Every note was dedicated to God and to nothing else. And this was true of all his music, no matter how secular its purpose.”
Soli Deo Gloria