“He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.” Psalm 40:3 ESV
A few years ago, I was having lunch, with Brother Greg Keenen and Brother Dale Marshall, at a Pizza Hut. We were visiting and eating, when Brother Greg mentioned a song that was playing in the background. Both of them seemed to have a little bit of an internal struggle. They said they remembered the song well because it was popular when they were in high school and they had liked it. Because of our age differences, it had no effect on me at all. Before that day, I had never heard the song. It was popular after 1977, when I became a Christian. Another time, the three of us were having lunch at Boomerang’s. Background music was playing in this restaurant, as well. This time, I was the one with internal struggles. I had a great desire to move the tables and chairs back to form a dance floor and get up and dance. The song was “Mustang Sally” by Wilson Pickett. If you are not familiar with the song, I would describe it as having a heavy bass guitar beat coupled with Pickett’s gravelly voice to form a tune that made me want to move. This song was popular when I was in high school. It had no effect on Brother Greg or Brother Dale. It was popular when they were in grade school. I have been interested in how a sound or a smell or a taste can trigger memories and reactions from our past. Sometimes, they can even make you want to get in the flesh, as the Scriptures describe going back to a way of life that we lived prior to salvation.
With this offering, I would like to examine the influence of music in my life. How it has helped to shape who I am, by seasoning my emotions, by affecting my thought process and my spirituality. Like King Saul, the right type of music can create a positive mood within me.
Perhaps my first awareness of music was while we were living in the Bakersfield area. As the car radio played, I would hear music from Buck Owens, Hank Thompson, Ray Charles, and Perry Como. I thought they were on one station. As I got older, I realized they didn’t come from the same station or were in the studio singing live.
In our home, music appreciation began for me, with cartoons on television. While the primary interest was in the cartoon character, such as Bugs Bunny, the music was something that I grew to enjoy. When a cartoon would have a quiet morning scene, the accompanying music was usually Morning Mood, Suite No 2, Op 46, No 1 by Gynt. Hungarian Rhapsody #2 by Liszt was featured in “The Cat Concerto” and “Rhapsody Rabbit”. Largo Al Factotum by Rossini was in “Magical Maestro”. Do you remember Elmer Fudd, at Corn-gie Hall, leading the orchestra in playing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1, in the “Corny Concerto”? How about “The Baton Bunny” or “The Rabbit of Seville”? In “What’s Opera, Doc?”, Elmer Fudd utters “Kill The Wabbit!” as Wagner’s Flight of the Valkyries plays. Yes, I learned to appreciate classical music from watching cartoons. Sometimes I like to listen while eating a carrot; just to help me remember my beginnings.
In the early sixties, my family would watch the Ed Sullivan show. I remember when The Beatles came on and played “All My Loving” and “Tell There Was You”. They were definitely different than Buck Owens or Beethoven. I bought several of their albums as I got older and was a Beatles fan. I liked their early and middle work, but lost interest after Sgt. Peppers because I didn’t understand the drug use references. From a spiritual view, it is interesting to see the downward progression in their writing; from “I Want To Hold Your Hand” to “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”.
Shortly after this time, we were in Dallas to visit our Texas relatives. My mother’s brother, Richard owned a gas station in a predominately black part of town. On his radio, I heard James Brown for the first time. Wow! Then I was exposed to The Supremes and others from the Motown sound and loved it. Culturally, I was raised racially neutral. My parents never instilled any bias toward any ethnicity to me. I have been interested in how people live and why they think the way they do and why they believe the things they believe. Through music, I have been able to relate to those from other cultures as I tried to understand who they were.
In the eighth grade, I joined the Marlow Outlaw band. I wanted to play the drums, but the band director said to me, “Son, everybody wants to play the drums. You need something distinctive! “. That distinctive instrument was the French horn. I have often suspected it was the only instrument he had available and had probably been turned down, multiply times from previous students, who had wanted to play the drums. He began by teaching me the notes using FACE and Every Good Boy Does Fine. He taught me how to identify a whole, half, quarter, and eighth note. Next, came finger placement on the keys and how to blow into the mouth piece. I remember the first song I tried to play was “Greensleeves”.
When we moved to Grand Coulee, Washington, I started playing French horn again. The school band was small and lacked someone to play the lone horn no one else wanted to play. They had plenty of drummers though. The band director was excited to have me join. She was from Idabel, Oklahoma and was looking for a ray of hope from someone from her home state. I was to play first (and only) chair. I was placed next to the baritone horn. While a French horn can sound elegant and regal, the music written, for most of what we played, was less than exciting. On more than one occasion, I would play the baritone music. It was more involved, than the French horn sheet music.
Outside of the band room, my musical choice was what was on the radio. I liked Three Dog Night, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Aretha Franklin, Steppenwolf, Beatles, Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, James Brown, ex cetera. As I have said in earlier stories, I had anger issues. I can see now, the music I listened to then, didn’t help calm me down. I would go to dances or other places to hear music that would help me release the anger, not knowing it was only increasing my anger.
That’s the way it went until I became a Christian. When the rage was converted to peace, my outlook changed and so did my music. I began to enjoy the truth of the old hymns. I enjoyed the praise and worship music, which was increasing in popularity, in the late 1970’s. I had joined the church choir and tried to use the voice He gave me to honor Him. I have a theory that the music you enjoyed before you were saved, will probably be in a similar form after you are saved. I didn’t like the twang of a steel guitar before I was a Christian. I don’t like it now. Before I was saved, I looked for music to move me physically. Now I look for music to move me spiritually. I have to be careful not to get caught up in the flesh, even with Christian music. Romans 8 is an excellent passage to study and apply to our life, regarding living in the flesh or in the Spirit. I am to put aside the music (and all other things) that would cause me to live as I did before my salvation.
It is clear to me about what I am supposed to listen to. Ephesians 5:19 says to “speaking to one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” But at some point, Christian music changed. The music I listened to after salvation was from The Maranatha Singers, Wayne Watson, Don Moen, Dallas Holms, Russ Taff, Keith Green, Steve Green, Michael W. Smith, Brooklyn Tab choir, ex cetera. All people who seemed to love the Lord and played their music to honor Him. I’m sure selling music was important to them, but I always got the idea from them, being popular was in God’s hands. Not through promotions.
As I see it, the music was changed to just create sells. If they had to leave the Lord out of it, that seem to be alright. And that saddens me. I grew to stop listening to contemporary Christian music. For a while, there was a classic Christian music on the radio, but it didn’t last. I started listening to more classical music and more sports radio. To be honest, it didn’t fill the void for music that honors the Lord. I know there are good writers out there. Chris Tomlin and Matt Redmen are two who come to my mind. I don’t like their music very much, when I hear it on the radio, but I enjoy singing their songs in our church service.
Maybe I’m just old and out of touch. Or maybe, I just old enough to remember, when some Christ- honoring music was common place, on the Christian music scene. I want to make sure that what influences me is pleasing to the Father.
After listening to all the music that I have heard in my life, I close with this. From my favorite song, that was written by Laurie B. Klein. She wrote, “I love you, Lord and I lift my voice to worship you, Oh, my soul, rejoice. Take joy, my King in what you hear. Let it be a sweet, sweet sound in Your ear.”
My past was part of what shaped me into the person I am now. What has helped shaped you? I appreciate and welcome your comments.