Power of Music, Part I

There is truly power in music. Music itself has effects on people, which take place whether or not they believe it or are aware of it. Some of these effects can be measured objectively. Some of them are dangerous and detrimental, and some of them are beneficial. Some of the effects of music, as various scientists have studied them, will be described in this study.

There are people who think that there is no power in music. They believe that music has no effect on them, and they are often very vocal in expressing their belief. The reason they are vocal is because they are afraid that their favorite music will turn out to be in the detrimental class. It is safer for them to pretend that it does not matter what kind of music you listen to and what kind of music you use in worship. If music does not have objectively measurable effects, then it all boils down to a matter of taste, what kind of music you like. Such people claim that there is no good or bad music as such, it all depends on the use made of it.

It seems that the vehemence of the differences in such taste should in itself warn us that music does have a strong effect on us. If there were no kick to it, no one would have very strong opinions about it. There may very well be things in life that are neither good nor bad in themselves, but are good or bad as they are used. Music is not one of them.

Is Music Neutral?

One author addressed this objection in this way: “The whole premise of using secular music as a vehicle to carry a sacred text is based on the erroneous assumption that music itself is neutral. The only people in the history of music
that have promoted that idea are twentieth-century Christian apologists . . . . No secular musician or music historian of any age has ever believed that music is neutral. Every generation except this one has realized the power and influence of music without or apart from the words.” Woetzel, Kurt, “Is Music Neutral?” “The Heresy of Claiming that Music is Neutral,” http://www.wayoflife.org/

If music in itself has measurable effects, then it is just not true that it does not matter what kind of music we use. If music has any effect at all, then there is good and bad music, and we must examine music to find out which is good and which is bad. It cannot be a question of anyone’s taste or anyone’s opinion. Combining good Christian lyrics with the adversary’s music does not sanctify the evil. It defiles the good.

There are many ways in which the power of music may be seen. “Music has the power to by-pass our conscious focus of attention. We can actually become the music. And conversely, we are what we listen to.” John Beaulieu, Music and Sound in the Healing Arts, Station Hill Press, Barrytown, New York, 1987, 14. Beaulieu claims that people can be recognized by the type of music they listen to. An illustration of this occurred when he was in music school where there were people who liked to listen to only Bach and other people who listened to only Beethoven. He and his friends sat in the student lounge and picked out the Beethovens from the Bachs. The Bachs walked fast with a bounce. The Beethovens walked slower, more straight forward, and always looked very serious.

Scott recognized that the prevailing theory is that styles of music are merely the outcome and expression of civilizations and national feelings—that is the civilization comes first, and its characteristic species of music afterwards. But Scott believed that the truth is actually the reverse: an innovation in musical style has invariably been followed by an innovation in politics and morals. (See Cyril Scott, Music: Its Secret Influence Throughout the Ages, The Aquarian Press, Northamptonshire, England, 1958.)

The Ayatollah Khomeini must have believed this, because when he became the leader of Iran, one of his first acts was to outlaw all forms of music other than traditional Iranian. Beaulieu, 15. The results of such actions appear to be long-lived. The author met two Iranian ladies in Sweden who still wear scarves on their heads. When questioned, they said they had been wearing them ever since commanded to do so by Ayatollah Khomeini, even though they are now living in Sweden, and they did not wear them before the time of Ayatollah.

Music can Inculcate Ideology

A number of governments have been convinced that music could be used to inculcate ideology in their citizens. One example is the musical manipulations of the Stalinist regime in the 1930s. Shostakovich claimed to have made professional sacrifices in order to maintain peace with the bureaucracy.

After the revolution in China in 1966, Chairman Mao declared flower gardens and music with a beat to be unlawful. He promoted revolutionary operas such as the “Red Lantern” which were designed to lead to total allegiance to socialism.

From his log cabin in the woods, Thoreau warned that music can destroy civilization. “Even music can be intoxicating. Such apparently slight causes destroyed Greece and Rome, and will destroy England and America.” Tame, David, The Secret Power of Music, Destiny Books, Rochester, Vermont, 1984, 10.

From ancient times up to the nineteenth century, these theories were quite widely accepted. The philosophers of ancient China, India, Egypt, and Greece all would have agreed with Thoreau. They explained in detail what music would maintain the welfare of the state and the well-being of the individual. They also warned in detail what music would have deterious effects on both individual and nation.

Confucius condemned several styles as morally dangerous. “The music of Cheng is lewd and corrupting, the music of Sung is soft and makes one effeminate, the music of Wei is repetitious and annoying, the music of Chi is harsh and makes one haughty.” Ibid., 14.

In addition, music could also affect entire nations: “If one should desire to know whether a kingdom is well governed, if its morals are good or bad, the quality of its music will furnish the answer.” Ibid., 37. Confucius thought that music should be one of the first elements of education and that either its loss or corruption was the surest sign of the decadence of a nation.

Musical Laws

In fact, musical science was considered so important in ancient China that the government prescribed rules of music by general decree. It fixed the fundamental note Kung and the dimensions of the pipe that gave it, which served as a universal standard of measurement. This was carved on public monuments. Each founder of a new dynasty carefully created a new music in order to give a new character to his empire and traveled through the land to be certain it was used exclusively. In Li Chi, one of the Chinese canonical books, it tells that the music of Emperor Yao was sweet and pleasant, that of Chun tried to imitate that of Yao’s, that of Hsia was grand, noble, and majestic, that of Shang and Chou was masculine, courageous, and active. (See D’Olivet, Fafre, Music Explained as Science and Art, Inner Traditions International, Rochester, New York, 1987,59.)

In Egypt, the laws controlling music were engraved in the temples.

Plato claimed that the corruption of the Athenians began when they abandoned the ancient musical laws. He believed that music should be considered one of the first elements of education and that the state should regulate the musical education. He thought that inclinations of men could be recognized by the type of music they liked or admired. And further that music had an irresistible influence on the form of government and that no change could be made in music without making a corresponding change in the constitution of the state. Ibid., 59, 43.

The author heard about some children in England who hear only baroque and earlier music in both their school and home. They are deliberately being protected from rock music. The report is that they are very healthy and well-behaved children.

In addition, the author met a family in Finland with a two-year-old son. After spending four hours in the presence of the child, the author was astonished at how well-behaved the child was and questioned, “How can this be?” Part of the answer was that he has heard only classical music in the home and has been protected from rock music outside the home as much as possible.

Considering the actions of Ayatollah Khomeini, Beaulieu comments: “What would happen to American reality if we passed laws that people could only listen to early country and western?” Beaulieu, 35.

Even though we have no such laws regulating music, America has a form of music that has permeated the country and has spread throughout the whole world. If it is indeed true that an innovation in musical style has invariably been followed by an innovation in politics and morals, what are the effects which rock music is having on our country and the world? Perhaps Thoreau’s prophecy that music will destroy England and America should be examined.

Reprinted from The Lord is My Song, Print-Quik, Inc., Madison, Tennessee, 2002, 41–44.

To be continued . . .

Juanita McElwain earned her PhD in Music Therapy from Florida State University. She has taught music on all levels from preschool to college graduate. She has worked as a music therapy clinician with the mentally challenged. Her areas of expertise in research include the effects of music on brain waves and the effects of music on headache. She has given numerous seminars on the power of music, which include good and bad effects of music— rock music, sensual music, music in worship, and mind control through music—throughout the United States and in Europe. She and her husband are presently retired in West Virginia. She may be contacted by e-mail at: juamce@meer.net.