Monday, May 07, 2012

The Man from Moscow Misses It on Music

When I say Moscow and music, you might think Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, or Rimsky-Korsakov, but for the moment instead think Douglas Wilson from Moscow, Idaho.  Wilson is called by many the father of Christian classical education, so he is an influential thinker among evangelicals and even among fundamentalists.  In the last week, he has written an essay in which he begins his concluding paragraph with this sentence:

Outside these basic areas, if we reject a form of music out of hand because it is not the form of music we prefer, then we are trying to kick against the variegated world that the triune God created.

Wilson introduces his post with a musical list of the last twelve songs to which he had listened:

(Sittin On) The Dock of the Bay by Sara Bareilles
Build a Levee by Natalie Merchant
29 Ways by Marc Cohn
Lake Charles by Lucinda Williams
Slow Dancing in a Burning Room by John Mayer
Slow Turning by John Hiatt
Cajun Moon by J.J. Cale
Moment of Forgiveness by Indigo Girls
Walkin' Daddy by Greg Brown
Sundown by Gordon Lightfoot
Give Me One Reason by Eric Clapton and Tracy Chapman
Boulder to Birmingham by Emmylou Harris

Wilson is not arguing that we can't judge musical form, but he narrows the basis for condemnation of form to only three criteria (that conveniently allow him to keep his music):  skillfulness at the particular genre, what he calls a musical declaration of rebellion against God, and extreme inappropriateness.  So it's got to be good for what it is, not atonal except in rare instances (he mentions atonal compositions for horror films), and in fitting with the occasion.  I have observed Wilson to approve, enjoy, and even play rock, blues, and jazz.  His main standard of judgment seems to be that the style must be played well according to its own standards.

Douglas Wilson himself is a well-known presuppositionalist.  He debated the late atheist, Christopher Hitchens, a few years ago with an entirely presuppositional approach.  To be consistent with that apologetic, Wilson must also believe objective truth, objective goodness, and objective beauty.  His stated view in this article puts a unique spin on the latter of those three.   I believe Wilson contradicts his own view of the world to conform to his own musical preferences, resulting in his piece missing it on music.

I'm guessing that Wilson has worked it all out in his own mind, to spare his own musical tastes, but if you took his arguments for his view and applied them to painting, almost any art form could be acceptable as long as it was beautiful according to the standards set for that particular genre.  Salvadore Dali and Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol were good at what they did, according to the standard set for surrealism and cubism and popism.  These art forms would parallel nicely with the free expression and improvisation ("jamming") of jazz musicians.   Good bluegrass would correspond to a good Elvis on velvet.  Even lawn gnomes could contribute to acceptable aesthetics skillfully done.

To make his argument, Wilson employs this metaphor:

Comparing Mozart to Vince Gill is like comparing your lawn mower to your dishwasher and asking which one is better. Better at what?

Perhaps Bach is ratchet set to Kurt Bachman's sledgehammer.  Wilson uses his metaphor to carve out a unique definition of beauty.  Problem is, the lawn mower, among many other power tools and household appliances, has no aesthetic value, so his analogy fails.  It is the paint brush and the violin.  Both are beautiful in and of themselves as long as they operate properly.  And then it becomes how we use them.  Certainly, since lawn mowers themselves are an invention of men, they can have morality, but in a very limited sense.  The better comparison as it relates to machines would be the lawnmower and the garrote or the rack, the former beautiful and the latter ugly.  A garrote could be skillfully machined and crafted, none of which would render it acceptable.  And a working landmower itself is beautiful, except when not used for a good purpose, for instance, aimed at and then over the neighbor's cat (some think that's open for argument).

Wilson could have used other metaphors.  He could have employed pharmaceuticals.  For instance, Bach could be to aspirin to Beethoven's motrin.  If this is the case, then Bach would be aspirin to B. B. King's barbiturates.

Rock music, the rototiller, was rejected outright for decades by the Holy Spirit indwelt, by the churches, and for the sake of Wilson, by the confessional church.  Since rock music has become very recently acceptable, as well as many other art forms, under the ecstatic influence of the Charismatic movement, it has shifted from a depravity to one of the variegated forms of the triune God to people who love it like Wilson does.  Rock music itself, for an example, is a fleshly lust that wars against the soul (1 Peter 2:12).  It was not invented by the godly.  It conforms to the spirit of this age (Rom 12:2).  It is not lovely (Philip 4:8).  It makes provision for the flesh (Rom 13:14).  The genre itself means something and that meaning is corrupt.

Paul wrote that the idol was nothing (1 Cor 10:19).  Sure.  That was also a Corinthian argument.  The meat was also nothing (1 Cor 10:19).  It was just meat.  And meats were for the belly and the belly for meats (1 Cor 6:13).  Another Corinthian argument.  But Paul said, not really.  Demons were actually involved with the idol.  Demons were also involved with the meats.  The association was much stronger than a skillfully crafted piece of wood and a nice cut of steak.  And there is more to notes than just notes in the hands of men.  So we look at who invented the particular genre.  It matters.  They know it, and it seems that about everyone knows it except for professing Christians like Wilson.

Jesus said that no man can serve two Masters.  However, there's a lot about the world system, the ungodly mammon, and worldly lust, that the flesh has a taste for.  For centuries, Christians have been attempting to find some way to acceptably straddle the fence.  It helps for "church growth," and you get to be a Christian and still have your worldly things, use your grace as an occasion to the flesh.  None of this is new.

Wilson himself is a man made in the image of God.  He's got some great skills at writing.  He's interesting to read.  But this particular composition should have been sent to another machine:  the shredder.


philipians2511 said...

Brother Baconburger,

I happen to agree with above, the post should have been sent to the shredder.

Music not amoral. When, we look, at who authors the music. We find out a lot.

I present these quotes from a 60 minutes interview with popular jazz artist Wynton Marsalis:

...“(A) quote from Duke Ellington, who says ‘By and large, jazz is like the kind of man you wouldn’t want your daughter to associate with,’” Safer said.

“Well, that’s true too. It deals with matters of romance. It deals with sexual things,” Marsalis agreed.

“There is a certain seductive nature to the music,” Safer said.

“Man, if you don’t have that your music is not worth listenin’ to. Yeah, you have to have that edge. You have to have that sexuality, that sensuality, you have to have that primitive feelin’. And the more primitive you have, the more refined your concert is, the more primitive you have to be,” Marsalis said."......

Jm 0.02 I'd rather stay separated from the world and it's music.

It has nothing to offer.

Respectfully Submitted,

Brother Steve

Gal. 2.20


Thomas Ross said...

Doug Wilson also believes in baptismal regeneration and the federal vision works salvation heresy.