Purpose is something that people are always searching for in life. It’s not just purpose for your life but also purpose in daily activities, purpose of stuff, purpose of positions, and the list goes on. In fact, describing purpose is a part of my job. Take the new marimba for example. Do you want to know how many times I answered the question, what is the purpose of that? It was several. Or what is the purpose of the tubes on the bottom of that or what is the purpose of having an instrument that is that long or that large?
The purpose of music is another question that I have not only answered but one that I have wrestled with myself. If someone were to ask me, what is the purpose of music I know my answer would have been different at different points in my life. It could have been anything from fun to enjoyment to praise to learning. Take a couple examples from my own life:
Purpose of music? Learning the value of hard work (5th grade)
My mom was asked to play organ for a cousin’s wedding. My mom asked my cousin if I could play my trumpet on some of the pieces, specifically the processional and recessional. One thing that my mom emphasized to me was that a wedding is something the couple remembers for the rest of their life. I needed to make sure that I was prepared so that my playing wouldn’t be a blemish on an otherwise beautiful day.
I unfortunately provided that blemish on an otherwise beautiful day botching the trumpet part on the bride’s processional. A hard lesson was learned through music that in order to perform something well, whether in music or in life, practice is essential.
Purpose of music? Persistence (10th and 11th grade)
Solo and ensemble festival was an opportunity to prepare a solo, perform it for a judge, and get a rating. My 10th grade year was the first time that I participated and I went into the day feeling prepared. As my time to perform came, my nerves overwhelmed me. I felt like I couldn’t perform and didn’t want to perform. I stepped into the room and as I remember it, I didn’t even get half of the notes out and walked away devastated.
I got a 3 which was one of the lowest scores of the day. The next year, I didn’t want to participate but I was encouraged by my band teacher and trumpet teacher to do it again as a junior. I honestly don’t remember the score I got my junior year but I remember that it went much better and that I was able to push through a difficult experience and see growth as the result.
Purpose of music? Perspective (Freshmen year of college)
The summer after my freshman year of college, I traveled with the A Cappella choir to Europe. Our first stop was in a small German town named Tarmstadt where we performed in a small, countryside church. My selfish first thought was, we traveled all this way to Germany to perform in a church this size? Shouldn’t we be performing for much bigger crowds in bigger venues?
My pride was quickly put in check. The entire town came out to welcome us. They had us meet with the mayor and city leaders. They fed us, they gave us places to stay, and they packed the church as full as they could. People were standing along the walls and in the aisle ways just to hear the choir. It wasn’t because of us though. It was because of the message that was being shared.
They were so delighted to meet people from the other side of the world that were worshipping the same savior as them. They even faxed a song to our choir director that they wanted us to learn so that their German choir could sing it with us. It was “An Irish Blessing” which has continually been a part of my life ever since with its powerful message of the Lord holding us in the palm of His hand. Not only getting outside of my pride but also having the realization that we have a big God that we get to sing praises to.
God’s purpose for music
One question that I have wrestled what was God’s purpose in giving us this wonderful gift of music? When you look at music at its core, you would not place it into the category of a need the way we do with food, drink, air, shelter, etc. So I guess, by that logic, you could say that music is not essential for our lives as human beings.
If we woke up tomorrow and music was gone from our lives, we would still be alive, the world would still be turning. But think back to that original question of what was God’s purpose in giving us this wonderful gift of music? I’m going to be a bit bold here and say that I don’t believe that God’s main reason for giving us music was to improve test scores in math or to keep kids out of risky behaviors.
Studies show links between participation in music and these ancillary benefits and often times when people stand in front of a group of people and make their pitch for music, that is the route they go.
Here is what I am going to say - God gave us music because he loves us. It is a picture of who he is. It is a tangible way in which we can experience the glory of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit and it is a way in which we can enjoy life.
Students at LuHi get the opportunity to experience joy, peace, exuberance, love, trust, awe, and so much more. Music is a place in these students days where they realize how much their savior loves them because he gave us this gift.
But it doesn’t stop there. This is where it gets really cool, especially because we are Lutheran High School, a place where we can boldly proclaim the Gospel. I want to share with you a quote from Timothy Keller. Timothy Keller is one of my all time favorite authors. This is a quote that was shared with me this summer that is so applicable to who we are as a school and as a music program.
“The Church needs artists because without art we cannot reach the world. The simple fact is that the imagination ‘gets you,’ even when your reason is completely against the idea of God. ‘Imagination communicates,’ as Arthur Danto says, ‘indefinable but inescapable truth.’ Those who read a book or listen to music expose themselves to that inescapable truth. There is a sort of schizophrenia that occurs if you are listening to Bach and you hear the glory of God and yet your mind says there is no God and there is no meaning. You are committed to believing nothing means anything and yet the music comes in and takes you over with your imagination. When you listen to great music, you can’t believe life is meaningless. Your heart knows what your mind is denying. We need Christian artists because we are never going to reach the world without great Christian art to go with great Christian talk.”
I’m going to give you a moment to process that quote, because there’s a lot in there. Just take a moment and read through some of that again.
Here is what I want to leave you with: Music communicates in a way that words can’t. Sermons, Bible studies, devotions, bring the word of God to life in one way but music brings the word of God to life in a way that words cannot. Something changes inside us when we hear music. We get to experience God in a way that words cannot express and we get to communicate the Gospel to a fallen world in a way that can change lives.
Earlier I shared that it could be said that, at its core, music does not have an essential purpose. I want to say here tonight that I believe music IS essential because the GOSPEL is essential. This world needs the Gospel. This world needs Jesus Christ and music is a way in which we can communicate this essential truth.