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Friday, 4 April 2014

Grace Notes

   In the early 1990's I was convinced after watching a particular documentary to cut all ties with mainstream, popular music.  Rock music at its core led to rebellion and disorder.  This posture of condemnation was relatively easy for me to accept because I wanted to live according to God's standards and this black-and- white way of looking at a genre of music was at least simple.  It did not demand discernment.
   More recently I have been enlightened about the problem with such a posture of condemnation.  Andy Crouch says of a posture: "It is the position our body assumes when we aren't paying attention, the basic attitude we carry through life" (Culture Making, 2008, p.90).  Having this one stance does not give us the flexibility to respond appropriately to a wide range of musical  offerings, as just one example of culture.  When we condemn, we will never have the opportunity to see grace notes in mainstream music.  Using three examples of musical groups I used to listen to and enjoy, I'd like to share some of the notes of grace I found when looking more closely.


When I recently attended a concert that combined a symphony orchestra with an ABBA tribute band from Sweden, I readily admitted to my children that ABBA's music was not very deep lyrically. This pop group from the 1980's sang mostly about relationship triumphs and tragedies to very catchy melodies.  I attended this concert with my two sisters as a nostalgic outing from our younger days.  For one of their encore pieces, the orchestra and tribute band played "Thank you for the Music."  When the lead vocalist introduced the song, she dedicated it to the original ABBA, which had provided them with the music they were performing. But if you think back to the original ABBA, who were they saying "Thank you" to? Some of the words are:
Thank you for the music 
The songs we're singing
Thanks for all the joy they're bringing
I've often wondered how did it all start
Who found out that nothing can capture a heart
Like a melody can
Well, whoever it was, I'm a fan.
   I call this a grace note; even though the songwriters do not name God, they recognize that music is a gift. When you receive a gift, you say "Thank you."  God is the inventor of music and its ability to capture a heart. When I hear or hum this song, I can direct it towards "the giver of every good and perfect gift" (James 1:17).


   This was another of the bands I enjoyed in my teens and early twenties.  Between 1970 and 2002 the band released eleven albums, but the style changed somewhat with the departure of Roger Hodgson in 1983.  While most Supertramp songs feature the traditional rock piano, drums, guitars and the less traditional saxophone, one song I'd like to highlight is accompanied only by a 12 stringed guitar.  "Even in the Quietest Moments" is the reflection of a human being when all the noise of our radios and televisions is silenced. Some striking lines are as follows:
The music that you gave me
The language of my soul
Oh Lord, I want to be with you
Oh won't you let me come in from the cold
And though your door is always open
Where do I begin, may I please come in, dear 
   Songwriter Hodgson has an ambiguous "you" and "dear" that cannot be directed to any human person.  His references to sun, rain, the stars and the ocean are hints of the transcendent.  Who is he talking to but a sense of creation/Creator that he is unable to fully grasp?  He knows there is more to this world than what meets the eye.  And yet he admits to being distracted: "For there's a shadow of doubt/That's not letting me find you too soon."  A person who knows this Creator can legitimately use this song as a prayer.

Eagles and Don Henley

   I used to know all the Eagles songs by heart.  Some are quite scandalous, such as "Take it Easy" with its casual attitude to relationships-- "I've got seven women on my mind/Four that wanna own me/Two that wanna stone me/One says she's a friend of mine" followed by a drive-by encounter with an eighth. Yet, on one of Don Henley's solo albums, he features a poignant song about forgiveness called "Heart of the Matter." Another grace note is his version of the 1880 hymn "The Unclouded Day."  
O they tell me that he smiles on his children there
And his smile drives their sorrows away
And they tell me that no tears ever come again
In that lovely land of unclouded day

His original audience may not have even known it was a hymn!  Yet this song represents the longings any human can identify with, a place where the Sun of Righteousness smiles upon us so that there are no more tears. 

   Here's where I come to a conclusion.  Christian musicians do not have a monopoly on spiritual songs. While I support Christian contemporary music, I am growing more favourable to performers who play in both churches and taverns.  Canadian singer-songwriter Jacob Moon says it well, "God's really just opening some doors for me to share my faith and my point of view, and just be a visible Christian amongst people who don't have any faith, or any particular faith, or a bunch of different faiths or whatever it is" (Christian Week article "Moon goes 'undercover' with tribute to musical heroes," by Aaron Epp, March 2014).  Music can be a place where we can find common ground and unexpected grace.


  1. "Christian musicians do not have a monopoly on spiritual songs." This is a really good point. Thanks for bringing it up! I know I'll be on the lookout for more grace notes in popular songs now that you've written about this.

  2. Some of my most thrilling epiphanies and moments of feeling enveloped by God's pure joy, have happened at outdoor music concerts. I continue to attend them; being surrounded in the rhythmic crush, by fellow fans of terrific stories and poetry set to numbing guitar and drum solos, makes me feel so happy and hopeful and thankful to be a part of a creative image bearing race. Canadian rock music in particular, the good stuff, often exposes truths and falsehoods via historically based narrative, satire, personal memoir, and humour. That being said, when the big tour comes to Mount Trashmore in Kitchener this summer, I plan to be far far away. Most of what the booked bands have to say is not very much. My opinion. Postscript: I do not "enhance" my consciousness at these things, ever. I don't understand why so many others do it.