Ten Reasons to Share Musical Opinions Humbly

I’ve been musing recently about how we express our musical opinions. Why do we feel so strongly about songs, bands, and styles? And why do we draw conclusions so quickly? Nope. Don’t like it. That stinks. I can’t stand that kind of music. You like that stuff? Is there anything wrong with raving about the music/artists we love and being swift to trash those we despise?

If we’re Christians, yes. Let me suggest ten reasons why musical forbearance might be good for our souls.

1. Being a self-appointed music critic is often just a sign of pride. Using outrageous or exaggerated words to put down certain songs, styles, or artists can be a symptom of selfishness, laziness, or arrogance. We don’t want to spend time investigating whether or not our assessment is accurate because we’re too busy sharing our opinions. (Prov. 18:2)

2. Music doesn’t define us. Why do we become offended when someone critiques our favorite song, group, or style of music? Because they’re insulting “our” music, which means they’re insulting us. That’s idolatry. Music isn’t our life — Christ is. (Col. 3:4).

3. Great songs don’t always sound great the first time through. Some songs require repeated listenings to appreciate their value.  Albums and songs often grow on us over time. Is all the best music always instantly accessible or appealing? I hope not.

4. The introduction to a song isn’t the same thing as the song. The first twenty seconds of a song usually doesn’t represent the whole song. It just introduces it. Deciding we don’t like a song from the start can keep us from hearing something we might truly enjoy or benefit from.

5. Listening to music the masses have never heard of doesn’t make us better. Some of us derive a particular joy in finding and listening to obscure, undiscovered artists. As if being unknown was admirable in and of itself. Some bands are undiscovered because they’re not very good. And if we do happen to discover a talented unknown band, it’s an opportunity to serve others, not look down on them.

6. Listening to music that is massively popular doesn’t make us better. This is the opposite craving of the previous point. It’s the mindset that says if the song or artist hasn’t been on the radio, at the top of the charts, or on TV, it’s not worth listening to.

7. Learning to appreciate unfamiliar music is one way to prefer others. Why does everyone have to like the music I like? What might I learn about my friends by patiently seeking to understand why they like the music they do? (Phil. 2:4)

8. Learning to like other kinds of music can open my eyes to God’s creativity. In his book, Music Through the Eyes of Faith, Harold Best addresses musical elitists. “Among all this stuff that needs aesthetic redeeming, there is also goodness, a whole lot of integrity and honesty, from which they themselves can learn.” (p. 89) That means I can actually enjoy music that is less sophisticated than what I’d ordinarily listen to.

9. We may have to eat our words. It’s happened more than a few times. I mouth off about how bad a song is, and later on start to think it’s actually pretty good. Or I tear up a song on my blog and later find myself talking to a person who loves it or the person who wrote it. Oops.

10. We might be missing an opportunity to be grateful for God’s gifts. Our tendency is to assume that God’s gifts all look and sound the same. They don’t. What would happen if the first time we heard a song we sought to be grateful rather than critical?

Let me be clear. No song is above evaluation and there are truly bad songs. We just might serve others and ourselves more effectively if we expressed our musical opinions with a little more grace.

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24 Responses to Ten Reasons to Share Musical Opinions Humbly

  1. Phil Dokmanovic December 7, 2008 at 11:11 PM #

    Love this post. Bringing a reminder of humility back into a Christian’s perspective on music is always poignant.
    Do you ever find that this is a reason for gifted musos not serving in the church because the church’s music is not “their style”? Any suggestions or stories on how to change this outlook so we can incorporate these people into our worship teams?

  2. Paul December 8, 2008 at 2:56 AM #

    All true in so many ways… thanks.

    I tend to fall into the obscurist categories. You know, “what do you mean you’ve never heard of the White Truffle Elephant Orchestra? That makes your musical opinion of less import than mine.” That kind of thing.

    This post could be expanded to deal with musical opinions at practice time. “I hate hymns!” “We *have* to repeat the chorus x times” “This song’s boring, can we change all the chords?” “Can we do My Jesus My Saviour punk rock style today?”

  3. steve December 8, 2008 at 8:01 AM #

    Great points, Bob. I have “committed” all ten of your examples over the years, and along with His Word, the Lord is always gracious to use others to help me see my sins, and to help me change. Thank you for your faithfulness at pointing us to our Saviour.

  4. John Spencer December 8, 2008 at 8:38 AM #

    Thank you for this word…rings true with the core values of Sovereign Grace Ministries…there must first be a culture of encouragement.

  5. Mark Chambers December 8, 2008 at 10:04 AM #

    As usual your post makes some great points. It reminds me of something John cage once said:

    “If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”

    As a music director I think I have experienced #9 and #10 to often. :)

  6. Bob Kauflin December 8, 2008 at 10:22 AM #

    Mark,

    That’s probably one of the few times someone will say I agree with something that John Cage said.

  7. Trent Broussard December 8, 2008 at 10:32 AM #

    Bob,

    Thanks for the post. Oh how wicked we can be with our selfish musical tastes. Thanks for reminding us that we are to be defined by Christ and not by music. The great danger I face is to assume if I like it is good or if not, it is bad. Hence good and bad music is defined by my preferences. That makes me the idol. Ugh!!!

    BTW, I love the T4G hymns (that makes them good).

    Trent Broussard

  8. dave December 8, 2008 at 1:04 PM #

    re: john cage quote::

    i HATE 32 minute songs. (and ask Stigora – I’ve written a few…)

    good post, Bob –

  9. Chris December 8, 2008 at 2:58 PM #

    Bob,

    I’ve got to say that having passion is a great thing. I think when I talk or when others talk about music, we can get passionate.
    I also think that passion is a gift from God.

    I think you need to be vary careful to not restrict passion and replace it it with a form of musical acceptance/apathy. I love many forms of music, and can see them all for what they are…great works of creation made by people, all of them having merrit of their own accord.
    Please don’t get me wrong, putting down music that others listen to or make is not a great thing and shouldn’t be done.

    But, please don’t expect people to swallow their excitment and passion when something that truly touches them is heard. I think that you make some vaild points, but that your first point runs the risk of creating a flock of musicaly apathetic people. Points 8-10 are on the money.

    I think you could have easily created a points like

    11. People who are passionate about music don’t need to validate why they like a particular style…they just like it. It resonates with the soul that God created for them, and they can’t help but respond to it. Equally, they will not respond to all other forms with the same passion, and that’s O.K., don’t expect them to love all forms of music, very few people can do that, but rather, allow them to appreciate it in their own way.

    12. People who never share passion openly about music often are inwardly passionate about music and take critical remarks about music they like very seriously, so don’t be critical.

    13. Music helps us find a way to express who we are (much like writing, painting or other things) and is a 100% personal thing, so we all can be right, rather than one person is right, and the rest are wrong. ie. My music is not better then yours, not even if it’s Bach vs. Guns and Roses.

    14. Rather than limiting your musical tastes, challenge yourself to listen to an entire album of a differnt genre of music you normally don’t listen to at least once a month.
    Similar to number 7, but with the challenge to DO something yourself.

    15. Realise that music is a gift from God and by creating new music, people are reflecting God’s creativity.
    This one is similar to 8 and 10…but with a clearer focus.

    Your final un-numbered point is a tad hipocritcal…
    I mean, “truly bad songs” in the eyes of who?

    Yours maybe, but what about God’s?
    I think a song that is about Satan, well, that song could be deemed a Truly bad song, but what if someone set some pretty awefull words to the Ninth Symphony…is it still “truly bad” or is it now only partially bad, since the greatness of the music helps to bring a beauty to the song, even if the lyrical content is anti-God?
    Songs are more than music, and they are more than words, they are an amazing marriage of both, which give birth to emotions, and allow people to feel things that words alone just can’t allow you to feel.

    Some songs are music and music alone, and who is to say that those are any less than songs that have words.

    I think you have bit off a bit more than is appopriate in this top 10.

  10. Bob Kauflin December 8, 2008 at 4:04 PM #

    Chris,

    Thanks for the response.

    I wasn’t seeking to dampen anyone’s passion for the music they love. Just the way we talk to others about it. I completely agree that we don’t have to put someone else’s musical preferences down just because they differ from ours.

    I don’t agree that music is 100% personal issue. Just because we like different kinds of music doesn’t imply that we have to toss all standards of evaluating quality. Aesthetic standards exist within genres (not so much across genres) that people use to establish the quality of songs. Fans of a particular style of music will generally agree on what’s good and what’s not. But in any case, the point remains that God calls us to express our opinions humbly, regardless of what kind of music we like or don’t like.

    And for the record, if someone put anti-God lyrics to Beethoven’s Ninth symphony, I’d say they turned a great piece into a bad one, though the music would still be just as beautiful.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  11. Bob Kauflin December 8, 2008 at 4:09 PM #

    Phil,

    You asked, “Do you ever find that this is a reason for gifted musos not serving in the church because the church’s music is not “their style”?”

    Yep. A number of things you can do. You can expand the kinds of music you use in the church. Since most of our musicians play by ear, we’ve intentionally sought to provide more opportunities for people who read music. It’s helpful to teach on the role of music in congregational worship. It’s also good to remind musicians that playing for the church is an opportunity to serve the church, not indulge our own preferences.

  12. kerrin December 8, 2008 at 11:13 PM #

    All my opinions are humble. Especially my musical ones.

    What… what did I say?

  13. Rich December 9, 2008 at 8:39 AM #

    Thanks for this post Bob. A couple years ago, you challenged me personally in this area, and that conversation has born good fruit to this day. Thanks again.

  14. Mark Chambers December 9, 2008 at 11:05 AM #

    I don’t agree with most of what John Cage said but there is some music he wrote that is actually quite interesting. Even folks who deny the their God-given gifts can’t help but image God in some tangible way with their work :)

  15. Jim Pemberton December 9, 2008 at 4:53 PM #

    Great post. I love to learn how different cultures use music in their worship. In one respect I like the fact that many older western hymns, and even some good newer ones, have found their way into the languages of other peoples because it gives an opportunity to worship cross-culturally. However, I love to hear music that comes from the native culture used to glorify God.

    On another note, It can be a balancing act when exposing others to unfamiliar music. I sat next to a fellow in choir once as we were introduced to a new piece and made the comment, “That section sounds kind of like Jupiter.” He looked at me like I had a third eye. Oops. He’d apparently never been exposed to Holst. You want to stretch people’s appreciation of God’s creativity through music without turning it into a stumbling block for them and without exalting your knowledge and appreciation of other styles of music.

  16. Scott Hill December 10, 2008 at 12:15 AM #

    I have no idea how many times No. 9 has come back to bite me.

  17. David Paul Regier December 11, 2008 at 2:22 PM #

    Wow. Thanks for this post. One of the problems I’ve seen in church culture is that we tend to marry the song to its style on the cd.

    With the production technology available in recordings these days, we create a demand in the church to make our music sound like the cd. And for those of us in <500 member churches, that’s just not possible. As leaders, we should be striving to express a sound that is organic to the makeup of our churches and the musicians in it.

  18. Michael Krahn December 15, 2008 at 6:56 AM #

    So are you saying it would be wrong for me to wear this shirt when I lead the band next week?

    http://tinyurl.com/2pgjhz

  19. Bob Kauflin December 15, 2008 at 7:07 AM #

    Michael,

    Uh, yes.

  20. Leslie December 18, 2008 at 2:14 PM #

    I know this is an older post, but wanted to say that I really appreciate it…I’ve recently been convicted of listening to worship/ful songs and thinking, “wow, that guitar part sounds really badly” or,”the singer isn’t very good, why are they even on a recording?” or “this songs needs to be faster.” Instead of thinking, “wow, these words really help me treasure Christ and direct my thoughts to God.”

    just something God showed me today

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