Monday, October 23, 2006

Musing about Music

Joshua Bell
Yesterday, I attended an LA Phil concert at the Walt Disney Concert Hall where Joshua Bell played the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto (yes, the same one that Hilary Hahn performed this summer). Unfortunately, it was an average performance, but the highlight was watching Herbert Bloomstedt conduct the Schubert Symphony No 9 with the LA Phil. He just had a way of bringing the best out of the orchestra (which is hard because they have probably played these symphonies a hundred times). However, I wasn't as familiar with the Schubert symphony and was a little tired because I had to be in the hospital early that morning.

During the rendition of the violin concerto, I began to think about why people value classical music so much. For example, many people are concerned that school music programs are so undervalued that they are the first educational programs to be discontinued when budget cuts arise. Why is music so important for our children's education? What benefits do classical music lessons provide, especially to children, most of whom will never become a Joshua Bell or a Hilary Hahn?

To begin with, music has some very direct physiological effects on the body, including the brain, through the autonomic nervous system and various hormones. Music also stimulates brain development, particularly the right hemisphere of the brain, and develops spatio-temporal reasoning (the Mozart effect). And certainly music is a universal language, a way to express ourselves and our feelings regardless of linguistic differences. Music can help us learn to get along with others as we participate in ensembles and learn to listen to one another. And let's not forget that music is a vital part of our worship (2 Chron 5:13; Ps 66:4). Therefore, music can impact us in all dimensions (physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual).

However, there is another reason, I believe, that classical music education, particularly learning to play a musical instrument, is beneficial. Frequently when Inspiration speaks of child development, emphasis is placed on self-discipline. For instance, Samson's mother was instructed to abstain from alcoholic beverages and unclean meats during her pregnancy for their son was to be a Nazarite (Judges 13:4,5). Restrictions were also placed on John the Baptist's parents (Luke 1:15). Esau never learned the lesson of self-control and sold his birthright for a hot meal (Gen 25:30-34). In the last days, children will be disobedient to parents (2 Tim 3:2). And the list could go on.

In the Testimonies vol 2, Ellen White tells of a man (Brother C) who took an extreme view of health reform. He was so severe that he was actually killing people unawares. Ellen White spoke out about his fanaticism but, interestingly enough, his problem was not a lack of knowledge or a bad theology. He is described as "selfish and bigoted," not having a "subdued will," or a "humble mind" (2T 385). Brother C was not teachable. Instead of acknowledging his error when he knew he was wrong, he would make excuses to justify himself. The underlying cause: "His will was not subdued in childhood" (2T 387-388).

Over and over again, the Bible and SOP stress the importance of self-discipline, the higher powers having control over the lower. This is a significant component of music lessons. Practicing the piano when one could be playing outside, repeating a section of music until it is thoroughly learned, counting out loud for the rhythmically challenged, dealing with the frustration of a difficult passage, are all opportunities for character growth through self-discipline.

While young Itzhak or Sarah may never become the next great prodigy, they may develop traits that, not only help them to become productive members of society, but also better reflectors of the character of Christ.

And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:5-7