Published in article for Power Source Magazine. My column is called UnCommon Sense: God's Gift of Creativity.
Ever observed your musical week? Just pay attention to what you hear. Let’s see, this week I listened to some old time gospel, Turn Your Radio On kind of stuff, sang some classic hymns like When the Roll is Called Up Yonder, heard some current Country hits, listened to the Civil Wars, Adele, me, Chopin, and a rap song by…what was his name??? Oh yeah, Macklemore. In my head I had songs pop up like John Denver’s Annie’s Song, and at some point Build Me Up Buttercup and the William Tell Overture, (which is a mental phenomenon that happens to me any time I’m in a hurry). Finally, throw in a contemporary worship song or two and the theme songs to all the TV shows I’ve watched, and you’ve got a summary of my typical musical week.
Sounds diverse, doesn’t it? Not very unusual, either, but here’s the thing. Most people really only hear two categories in that list: commercial and classical. And don’t count the William Tell Overture because it crossed over as the theme to the Lone Ranger and possibly a Bugs Bunny episode or two. So that leaves us with Chopin versus all the other more popular music.
And here’s the thing about THAT – in certain circles, a Chopin track is called a “composition” or “piece” while the rest are called “songs.”
I am intrigued by the distinction between songs and compositions because it sometimes becomes divisive, and musical wars really break my heart. Poor me. It’s never going to change, this aural tug of war that started so long ago when the first renegade writer added a note to the Gregorian Chant. I am perplexed though, as to why I IV V is considered more highfalutin than the 1 4 5 of song charts. Granted, you can’t very well chart a Chopin piece, but the scripting of music is only for the sake of communication. Music is the language of the soul, said Martin Luther, and the notes on a page are empty without the passion to feel them.
My grandmother could play Chopin, What a Friend We Have in Jesus, and the Boogie Woogie on the piano, all with such joy that it desegregated the music.
The other day I asked a friend if he’d been writing new songs, and he smiled smugly and told me no, he’d switched to “composing.” That was, of course, what got me going about this. But it is not an attitude exclusive to classical versus commercial, oh no! So often, the Pop fans don’t like Country, the Contemporary fans don’t like Southern Gospel, and the Worship writers probably don’t care because they’re in it only for the love of God, which is also where some big money is these days, or so I’ve heard.
I say music is music, and I hope I never get so big for my whole notes that I miss the message in it all. Music is as diverse as humanity, and we would do well to seek to understand or at least appreciate this culture’s motley scores for what they are without criticism. Things could be worse. Just imagine if you could only use a five note pentatonic scale for every song/piece. Ironically, you wouldn’t even be able to play Chopsticks, which was composed in the 1800’s by a British pianist! And THAT, dear Watson, is how the West was really won!!
Music makes pictures and often tells stories, all of them magic, and all of them true. And all of the pictures and all of the stories, all of the magic – the music is you! – John Denver