Awake to Music

I took a church-based missions curriculum called Perspectives when I was a teacher looking to fill my ACSI credits. One of the concepts in the course that stood out to me was the idea of 'heart-music.' We had different teachers every week. This teacher, though I don't remember his name, played clips of music from different cultures, from throat-singers to opera. He talked about how missionaries in the 18th century had gone to extraordinary effort sometimes to bring a piano deep into the heart of Africa or India, in order to play their staunch, square-rhythmed hymns in the churches they built. Some missionaries spent their lives in bringing a gospel emphasized cultural change before heart-change. This isn't to say their ministry was worthless, but the Perspectives course emphasizes the history that a gospel vision which doesn't create connections to the culture will not stick, but will remain outside of it--a cult.

I hadn't been able to articulate that problem before, but the truth is, the same thing sometimes happens even in our own culture. We can miss the heart of the gospel by being distracted with a cultural change.

Heart-music is a natural bridge into any worldview. Music, which we've heard from our earliest years, ties into the senses and memories in a powerful way. While the throat-singers and Chinese opera sounded alien and weird to me, Amy Grant or "How Great Thou Art" sounds just as weird to another culture. 

As never before, my generation in the U.S. "owns" their music. There is variety, accessibility, publicity. There are publications dedicated to music, a thousand places to listen online or purchase and download at the click of the button. We customize our own heart music, download it, remix it, and create a new context for it, match it with clips of movies on YouTube, or mix it into the soundtracks of our lives.

We rejoice in the perfect match of story and song in TV shows and movies. "Ahh..." we say, while watching Chuck, "Bon Iver...Flight of the Conchords...The Strokes...McG is a genius." 

Arcade Fire's anthemic "Wake Up" matched with the trailer for Spike Jonze's "Where the Wild Things Are" was the pure abandon of imagination, a cultural cry that reminded us of what we should feel.

I really think that's why we take such pride in our music libraries these days. Music--the best music--reminds us of what we could feel. Outrage, playfulness, abandon, determination, wonder, love, fear, wakes us up.

My brother and I went to a concert this week in Seattle by the great indie-rock band Arcade Fire.  Live music is one of my favorite things in the world, and if you have not heard their recent album "The Suburbs," it's well worth checking out. I plan to write more about the concert and this band's music and lyrics next week, too, but above is a link to the Madison Square Garden concert encore of the same tour.