1864 - 1930
The Importance of a Practical Knowledge of Music
The following is a paper read by Edwin Barnes at a teachers' institute held at
In order properly to comprehend music, it is necessary to understand something of its origin and use. To do this we must look to the Bible, where we find it first mentioned at the creation, when the "morning stars sang together." I need not cite all the passages referring to the use of music in connection with the worship of God: the filling of the temple with the glory of God during its use, the announcement of the birth of our Savior by the chorus of angels, and the triumphant song which is to be sung by the redeemed. All simply illustrate the importance placed upon it by the Maker of all things.
We thus see that the original design of music was the expression of feeling in praise and worship. This fact alone places it far above all other arts, because it becomes a valuable aid in the development of the spiritual life; and the more we give those desires and feelings expression through this medium, the stronger they become. The laws governing spiritual development are very similar to those which control the physical.
When we speak of physical law, we are apt to think it is something that we know all about; but when we refer to the spiritual, we think of it as mystical. Yet there is quite as much mystery about the physical growth as about the spiritual. When we take good
food, we know it nourishes but how it becomes a part of us, we cannot tell. So with the spiritual life, when we read the beautiful and ennobling passages in the Bible, or give expression to them through music, our hearts burn within us in response, and the soul is nourished. This is spiritual growth, but how it is accomplished we cannot tell, God knows.
The question arises, What is this music, which is made of so much importance in the Bible, and is so intimately connected with the spiritual life? We find the same laws governing it that govern the whole universe. Primarily, it is motion, regular motion or rhythm. For instance, a regular succession of taps, at first slowly, appeals to us only as a noise; but if the motion could be increased until it reached sixteen each second, it would become a tone, and enter the realm of music. With further increase in velocity the tone becomes higher and higher, until it passes beyond the limits of hearing, and becomes heat, light, color. We study music in these forms, and call it "philosophy." Were it not that our sight and hearing are so limited, we would see more beauty and hear more music all about us, from the hum of the insects to the whirling of the planets in space.
In music we find also the same laws that govern mathematics. When we analyze a tone, we find it to be only a more prominent sound among a series of tones bearing a fixed relationship to one another and that in definite proportion. Our common scale is so related. D is related to C by its vibration in the ratio to 9 to 8, E to C as 5 to 4, F to C as 4 to 3, G to C as 3 to 2, A to C as 5 to 3,B to C as l5 to 8,C to its octave as 2 to 1. The more often one vibration comes in unity with the other, the sweeter the sound; and the less often, the harsher the sound. For, instance, C to C, ratio 2 to 1, every other vibration unites. C to B, in the ratio of 15 to 8, is extremely harsh, as there is only one in fifteen united. Thus we see that the unity of sound and number are very closely connected.
When a tone is made by a piano string, an organ pipe, or the human voice it is only one among many. If you sound low C on the organ or strike the same note on the piano, the acute ear can detect five other tones. The inventions of modern science demonstrate that the same law exists in the human voice. In all these we find the same additional sounds produced by the same law, which we can no more explain than we can explain the law of gravitation, or tell why it is that the magnetic needle always points north.
So you see that in studying proportion in mathematics, we are learning of the relationship which already exists as a fundamental principle in music. We do not carry mathematics into music as a calculator, but we find its laws already there. So from our own finite reasoning we can appreciate the fact that all the studies which we look at as separate are but parts of one great plan, forming a perfect circle. One great writer has said:
In this art, in music, the discoveries of science, the divinations of philosophy, the moral aspirations of religion - all find a parallel, not as abstractions, but as glowing, concrete realities, which find their way into the secret places of the soul, arousing Its fullest activities. The highest value of music lies in the fact that It embodies, in forms which powerfully appeal to us, these great principles of order, harmony, proportion, variety In unity.
We look to music for its greatest power in its religious aspect. It forms a complete channel between God and the human soul for it is a means by which the varying shades of our inmost feeling can be expressed - the joy or sorrow, restlessness or repose, confidence or hope, strivings and victories. Next to the voice, the orchestral symphony affords the most perfect illustration of this.
After this brief outline of the nature of music, the question arises, what is the practical good of its study to the student?
The first I will mention is the discipline to the mind. Physicians tell us that a larger part of the brain is brought into use in instrumental music than by any other one study, in its complicated, minute, and muscular evolutions. When we see a note, the mind has to grasp its relationship to the rhythmic unit, its position on the keyboard, its relationship to all others in its immediate neighborhood, and sometimes at a speed of from five hundred to one thousand notes a minute. Dr. Karl Merz says:
As a study, music is highly Intellectual. He who would learn it must read new signs more varied in their character than are those in the Greek language or in chemistry. And yet there are some who say music is not intellectual. Look at the study of harmony, counterpoint, and fugue. Examine the mysteries of orchestration in all Its wonderful tone colorings. Take a glance at musical philosophy. You will surely decide that languages and the sciences may be mastered in far shorter time than it requires to master music in all its branches.
It is equally important in its effect upon the perceptive faculties of sight and hearing. Its influence upon the life of the student must be fully apparent. The study of sacred vocal music is especially helpful. All the great masters have written in this line, and have drawn their inspiration from the sacred Word, and were themselves men of religious experience.
Bach says of music that its final cause is no other than that it minister to the glory of God and the refreshment of the spirit. Look at Haydn. When his ideas ceased to flow, how fervently he prayed! When Handel wrote, "He was despised and rejected," he tells us that he shed tears and when he wrote the "Hallelujah Chorus" he thought he saw the heavens open, and angels standing around the throne.
The great composers all realized that these ideas did not originate with them, but were messages given them to be imparted to others. During the performance of Haydn's Creation it is said that at the place, "And God said, Let there be light, and there was light," there was such a wonderful transition in the music that it brought the whole audience to their feet. Haydn, then an old man, rose slowly, and pointing upward said, "Not from me, but from above."
Now these same feelings that the composers felt at the time of writing, are put into the music - it cannot help awakening the same feelings in a student, stimulating him to nobler action. It has been demonstrated by many carefully conducted experiments upon hundreds of persons, sometimes upon large classes in school, that fully three fourths of an audience receive from a musical composition the very same moral mood which filled the composer at the time of composing it. The student not only receives these impressions, but the music enables him to express the same sentiments from his own experience, thus exercising and developing the finer sensibilities, just as physical gymnastics develop, the muscles of the body.
In order to receive the best results from this study, it must be pursued with this aim and object in view, not as an accomplishment, or from a selfish motive, because what 'we get out of anything depends largely upon what we look for in it. If one watches the technical performance or listens for the quality of tone and fixes his attention on that, the real music and its message are lost. So in singing or playing a hymn; if the attention is absorbed with notes and time and that is all that is heard, then there is no sentiment of worship expressed.
Another necessity in obtaining the best result is always to hear the best music; for good music never fails to enter our inner nature; and if at all rightly used, it cannot fail to exercise an influence for good. The person who appreciates good music from this higher standpoint has his mind opened to all the beauties around him.
But some will say, "Why do we not see more of these results from this study?" Because many have their minds fixed upon its pleasant sounds rather than upon its mission, and there are many persons who would really enjoy the best music, who look no higher than this. It is on the same principle as in the taking of food. If one depends entirely on taste in eating, without taking into consideration the nutritive value of his food, the body is dwarfed or imperfectly developed. No one would allow a child to subsist upon sugar, merely because it is pleasant to the taste, yet this is precisely the way a great many people - I may say the majority - look upon music. They play and listen purely for the gratification of the senses, that which pleases the ear.
It is very evident 'that listening to such music, written for this purpose only, is just as bad in its effects upon the soul and life as improper food is upon the body. In supplying food for the physical nature, it is necessary to combine these two elements. It must be pleasant to the taste, and nourishing as well. So it is in good music which will please and be beneficial at the same time.
"But," says one, "I do not like your good music. It isn't pleasant to me." The most forcible illustration of this is a person who has read dime novels until he cannot enjoy a beautiful poem that ought to inspire him with noble resolves and a higher purpose in life. One way to judge good music is by its enduring qualities. Cheap, trashy music does not satisfy even the perverted appetite. Those who indulge a taste for this class of music soon get tired of one piece, and want another. The same is true of church music. Our best hymns are those which have endured the longest and still retain their dignity and beauty. Age has no more effect upon such hymns than upon the Bible.
Music is an index to character. If you see a student absorbed in a yellow-covered book, you have an immediate opinion of him. So if you hear the piano thrumming out the latest quickstep next door, the same feeling of disgust is aroused.
It is necessary that the student, in order to understand music from its true standpoint, fill one of two conditions - either be surrounded by the best music continually or study it from its true basis. I do not wish to convey the idea that it is necessary for a pupil to be well educated in order to understand music, but it is a valuable help as a remedy for a perverted taste.
In children we find that the love of the beautiful natural is inborn. When I play for my children in school, I play only the best music from the great masters. I find their minds sympathetic and appreciative, bringing to mind the fact that we are to become as little children. It is said that Paderewski, the greatest living pianist, refuses to play privately for people but he will play for hours for children. Children have not been initiated into the mysteries of jealousy and criticism, and their little hearts turn to music as the flower to the sunlight.
The voice is even more potent for it is the means through which we can more perfectly express our inner feelings than through any other medium. The voice is a most wonderful little instrument. It is the envy of all the ingenuity of man. Men have, spent their lives trying to imitate it. The vox humana stop on the pipe organ is the nearest approach to it. The vocalion is built on the same principle, in the hope of attaining that sound.
I consider the study of the voice of inestimable value to the student from the standpoint of health. It develops the lungs, increases the circulation, and builds up the general system, imparting life and vigor. Its study should be given a larger place in our schools, and every student should have a daily drill in the correct use of the voice, in speaking as well as in singing. The voice should be as musical in one as in the other.
In speaking, the voice should express the same feeling that the words are intended to convey. You will notice that orators and successful speakers influence people more by the tone of the voice than by words they use. It is eminently practical that our, young people should thoroughly understand this, especially those who are preparing for public work, where the voice will be in constant use.
A knowledge of laws controlling it is necessary for its preservation, so that the music of the voice may be unimpaired, and productive of the highest good. That it is the voice that gives the impression is shown from the fact that although two persons may say the very same words, the one from a motive of jealousy, the other from unselfish interest, the effect will be entirely different.
Another important factor in music has been sadly overlooked. I refer to the reed organ. I do not wish to infer that I would advise all students to study the reed organ alone, even for the playing of hymns. For if they had only this in view, a broader knowledge of the subject would be necessary in order to do justice to that work.
A person who has studied nothing further than the playing of hymns cannot properly interpret even those for lack of the breadth of expression that comes from a deeper and wider understanding of the subject. Their fingers lack the susceptibility to respond quickly to the will, and you observe a cramped and blurry effect in their playing.
Take another pupil, who has studied piano with technical drill and development and has played the oratorios and other sacred music such as the "Hallelujah Chorus," "The Heavens Are Telling," and "Unfold, Ye Portals Everlasting," and he or she will play the same hymn differently. That pupil will play with a broader conception and deeper understanding, conveying all the beauty and grandeur he has seen and felt in the other music, and the music will express the same feelings as the words. When he or she plays "Praise God, from whom all blessings flow," you will hear and feel the praise in his music. (This paragraph was heavily edited, the original can be read in the March 9, 1897 issue of the Adventist Review)
February 23, March 2, and March 9, 1897 Review and Herald