If you delve into sociology or musicology text books they will probably tell you that music developed as a tool to perform religious rituals, rites of passage, or cultural conveyance for the survival of the tribe’s sense of identity. And they’re right, to a degree. The problem is, in our Darwin-saturated world we consider our ancestors to be intellectually inferior, superstitious, under-developed, half-ape-looking goons. On the contrary, there is an abundance of evidence that our ancestor’s minds were just as agile as ours - and likely more so.
Scripture also has something to say about music’s development in human culture. Perhaps the first song ever written was Adam’s “love song” to Eve in Genesis 2:23. It’s hard to tell what form Adam’s statement took, whether it was a poem or a song (I believe it was both, as poems were often set to music in ancient bard cultures). But another figure emerges in the early stages of Genesis that gives us a clean trace to man’s musical origins.
Folded into the geneaology of Cain in Genesis chapter 4, the story of a sub-patriarch blooms into a fascinating drama with hidden passageways of meaning under the surface. Lamech comes onto the scene in a bold statement: “Lamech married two women.” He was the first recorded polygamist in the Scriptures. But his legacy is far more significant than that:
Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah. (Genesis 4:21-22, NIV)
To help keep track, here is a graphic of their family tree:
This was certainly a family of firsts. First polygamist, first shepherd, first musician, a blacksmith. Dad must have been proud. But it gets even better when you consider the meanings of their names. Lamech means “Servant of God,” and the name of his first wife, Adah, means, “Light.” His second wife’s name, Zillah, means, “Darkness.” Now the plot thickens. You have the “servant of God” dabbling with light and darkness, and the various products of those unions. Filling in the meanings of each name, the family tree looks like this:
According to the name meanings in the family tree, the minstrel (Jubal) came from the marriage of the servant of God (Lamech) with light (Adah). His brother is the shepherd (Jabal), which implies that pastors and worship leaders are brothers in church governance, not adversaries. This lineage assures us that music is a good thing by nature. Why do I say that? Unfortunately, many churches believe that music came from the “dark side.” I deal with this subject in Chapter 2 of my book, giving evidence for why I don’t believe that is accurate.
The account in Genesis offers an alternate history from what is being portrayed in textbooks - elementary school through college. Instead of generations of half-humans stumbling through sounds to find meaning, it shows that not long after Adam one man discerned effective natural tones and developed an organized system of music. In order to draw any intelligible sounds from an instrument there must be a system. Each string has a specific tuning (and some instruments have frets to manually “tune” them to different pitches quickly), and wind instruments require measured construction to manipulate air through the resonant chamber and distinguish each tone. Natural, intrinsic principles of music must have been observed, organized, and systematized to build an environment in which these instruments could develop. Jubal, the “father of those who play stringed instruments and pipes,” likely etched his discoveries into the hearts and minds of his children. Or perhaps there were writings that stayed dry in the Ark during the Flood (yes, I believe the Flood actually happened) and were disseminated into post-diluvian cultures.
Regardless of the particulars of Jubal’s ideas, we have a Scriptural record of man’s discovery and employment of music’s natural principles. Moses wrote the Torah as a historical record for the Israelites, and each book is not only layered with history, but bursting with spiritual implication. It is important for us minstrels to know where we come from, and to understand that our origin is a holy one.
Cool experiment by a genius. Masters work to make what is complicated obvious.
The popular concept of the Psalms is that they were written by David between tending sheep and fighting vicious animals. And that’s true for some of them. But David wasn’t the only one to put his pen to the parchment of Psalms. Others, like Jeduthun, Asaph, and the sons of Korah, wrote some very famous lines in Scripture. Miriam, Moses’ sister, also wrote a powerful song when Israel narrowly escaped the clutches of Pharaoh’s chariots. The mother of Jesus, likewise, wrote some beautiful lines in Luke 1.
One thing I’ll be working on over the next few weeks or months is compiling biographical information for these men and women. For me, songs make more sense when I know the background of their writers.
In the titles to some Psalms there are some strange terms like, “Miktam,” “Maskil,” “Shiggaion,” “Gittith,” among others. Your Bible probably has a footnote about each of these terms saying something to the effect of, “probably a musical or liturgical term.”
Great. Thanks. That helps a lot.
One of my goals is to find out what these terms mean and deliver the results to you. (If you have any helpful resources or references that I can use in my research, please don’t hesitate to send them to email@example.com). In fact, if you have any questions about As the Minstrel Playeth, I’d love to hear them. Maybe I’ll feature them in a Q&A blog post.
Looking forward to expanding the knowledge of the power of music.
Thanks and love,
John Coltrane Quartet playing “My Favorite Things.” Please enjoy.
Studies show that music significantly improves memory. By now most of us have seen the video of Henry, who comes alive in the middle of a retirement home upon listening to music from his youth (it’s worth another watch). It’s almost as if the man he used to be, vigorous and healthy, is awoken by music.
Perhaps you remember songs from your childhood that helped you recall important things in life (ABC’s, the months of the year song, which my preschool teacher played religiously twice a day, etc.). Music has always been a tool to help pass along important cultural values from generation to generation. Our brains take to music naturally, and I believe that music’s effect extends beyond just cerebral experience. It can actually engrave feelings and ideas deep into our beings, into our spirits.
This was understood long before scientific studies and compelling documentaries. In Deuteronomy 31:19 the Lord says, “Now write down for yourselves this song and teach it to the Israelites and have them sing it, so that it may be a witness for me against them.” The song is an everlasting reminder to the people of Israel about the promises (both blessings and curses) of God. As long as they carry the tune with them, they will know what God said to them. It outlasts families, cultural upheavals, severe persecution, famine, economic collapse, and even victories and abundance.
God used a medium that implants itself into the memory and spirit of people to broadcast this warning through the halls of history. In verse 21 He says, “And when many disasters and calamities come on them, this song will testify against them, because it will not be forgotten by their descendants.”
As minstrels, we are not just string-pluckers, horn-blowers or drum-hitters. We are living reminders of an eternal precedent participating in an ancient melody. I believe that the Psalms and the song of Moses (see Deuteronomy 32:1-43) recorded in the Scriptures purposefully don’t include music. It allows us to participate by joining as “every tribe and tongue” to express in our own voices the glory of God.
Songwriters can have lasting impact on the world around them. Just look at Michael Jackson. When he died, the entire world mourned. No political leader or social activist had the same reach he did in his time. People who were not even born when Off the Wall and Thriller came out still consider them to be strongly influential (including myself).
Fela Kuti turned Nigeria upside down through musical activism. He once said, “Music is the weapon of the future.”
Stravinsky caused a riot in early 20th Century Paris with The Rite of Spring (which was accompaniment to a ballet!). Leonard Bernstein, of a different generation and culture, was raving about it still, sixty years later. Stravinsky had died by that time, but what he communicated struck a powerful chord in the memory of mankind.
What does it mean for you and me? It means that we can make something that outlasts us. It means that we can be a creative instrument for lasting generational change. We can construct a musical monument that points our children and our children’s children toward the path of Truth. We can participate in God’s method for memorizing His statutes. We can make real, durable, life-giving music.
What will you be a witness to? (Comments and questions welcome)
Music praises God. Music is well or better able to praise him than the building of the church and all its decoration; it is the Church’s greatest ornament.
— Igor Stravinsky. Amen.
davidmhur asked: Awesome blog. God Bless.
Thanks David! Just trying to share what God has put on my heart and help people understand the expansive and glorious nature of music!
Over the past few months, I have felt drawn to the Psalms. Some of the most fascinating aspects to me are the epigrams above them, attributing them to a specific writer or writers and giving musical direction.
Give them a quick scan and you’ll notice that some Psalms are set to music that had already been written. Here is a list:
Psalm 9 - to the tune of “The Death of the Son”
Psalm 22- to the tune of “The Doe of the Morning”
Psalm 45 and 69 - to the tune of “Lilies”
Psalm 56 - the the tune of “A Dove on Distant Oaks”
Psalm 57-59, and 75 - to the tune of “Do not Destroy”
Psalm 60 and 80 - to the tune of “The Lily of the Covenant”
In my book I talk about how minstrels should adopt a mindset of “Renaissance” rather than “Reformation.” Renaissance literally means “new birth,” while Reformation (it’s intended meaning) is more of a reconstruction of the old. Now, let me make a distinction.
What I’m not saying is don’t ever play, remix, or reference old songs. In fact, quite the contrary! About two weeks ago my wife and I saw The Robert Glasper Experiment play in Durham. It was a true statement of mastery of musical craft. They began with a cover, John Coltrane’s “Acknowledgement" off of his quintessential A Love Supreme. It was readily recognizable, but they made it their own. They brought a classic song into their own style-space and birthed something new. Fashioning works into something that has your unique stamp of artistry is a form of new birth. What I am against is the wholesale forgery of something that was once fresh and exciting into something that is soulless and stale.
Unfortunately, this happens all too often in the music business. Most of the popular songs on the radio now are simply following a template of what makes a “hit,” using recycled ideas and sounds from decades past to cater to the lowest common denominator of collective taste.
I encourage you to take something that has been done before and make it your own, a unique stamp of your own style-space that simultaneously draws from the fresh and the familiar.
“Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself?” - Ecclesiastes 7:16 (ESV)
Historically, the Church has had a hard time adopting new styles and methods of making music (link). In a way, I can understand the desire to keep things simple. The early European Church primarily used monody, a poetic-melodic hybrid of recitation in their services. Monody is an ancient method of communicating sacred texts, using varying tones to convey importance and implant the stories into the listener’s memory. Dane Rudhyar says, “Archaic monodies have a descending character because they reflect a basic awareness of the descent of spiritual power (will and creative imagination) into matter.” It seems that monody in the early Church was a sacred symbolic representation of the original creation narrative. For many, it was the only legitimate expression of worship. Instruments got in the way of the essential expression of monodic recitation because the voice was viewed as the only pure instrument.
However, as the verse in Ecclesiastes says, it’s not good to be overly righteous (or overly religious). The early Church’s idea of monodic expression is powerful, but when it excludes all other instruments as irreligious or dirty, that is when the tradition of man supersedes Scripture. The Scriptures are rife with instrumentation. “Overrighteousness” destroys because it stifles the growth of new life. It cuts off the vitality of the next generation’s “new song” by eternally mandating the current generation’s forms. But God identifies Himself as One who does “a new thing.” He demonstrates the renewal of expression throughout the rhythmic patterns of the seasons, and, ultimately, in the resurrection.
Psalms at their very nature are accompanied by instruments (98:4-6, 150), and the process of creating new songs eventually requires new forms of expression. Let’s be careful not to fall into the overly righteous attitude toward our favorite forms of expression. It is vital that allow those coming behind us to bring to light what we could never conceive.
The edited copy of As the Minstrel Playeth is now available on Amazon! For anyone who was waiting on the revised version before purchase, wait no longer!
To everyone who bought the first copy, I would love to send you a revised version. If you email me at firstname.lastname@example.org I will send it to you asap. Thank you again for your support this past week!
Thanks, and be on the lookout for new posts coming soon!
First of all, I want to thank you all again for you incredible support the past few days. The amount and caliber of people who bought and promoted As the Minstrel Playeth is staggering, and I am humbled.
What we accomplished is really incredible. Again, here’s the tally so far: peaked at #3 on Kindle books about music(!), #7 in books about music on all of Amazon(!!), #1 in Jewish Music (!?), and #11 in Kindle books on philosophy. All of this from your support! Give yourself a mighty pat on the back.
So now the book is out. What’s next? First, I realize there are a few places where minor editing is necessary. Hopefully by the end of the week I’ll have the new version uploaded. I want to give everyone who bought the Kindle edition a free updated PDF, so if you bought the book and would like the updated version, send an email to email@example.com. I will get it out as soon as it’s ready.
Secondly, I want to create a forum for questions about the book, a place where the concepts become interactive. I hope to bring together a network of minstrels to share ideas, expound on topics, and grow the knowledge of the power of God through music. The ideas in the book are really only the beginning. Each idea could become a chapter or a book of its own, which leads to the next part:
There may be a physical printing of ATMP in its current form, but my goal is for the next release to be expanded. I see the current release as the first volume. The next volume (as I envision it right now) will include discussions with master minstrels, where they unload their wisdom on all of us who aspire to be better conduits of God’s message through music. Perhaps it will delve deeper into the physics and implications of sound and its effect on us spiritually. The next volume will develop over time, not rushed by deadlines like the first one.
Finally, this blog will be a resource of supplementary material. There are several ideas that didn’t quite make it through the editing process and I feel the need to share them with you. So please, visit the blog often! Let’s talk about your thoughts on the book!
Thank you again for your support.
Okay, so here’s the breakdown so far (I’m super excited!!): Amazon Kindle Bestseller charts: Music #26! Philosophy #86! Judaism #15! #1 Jewish Music!! WE DID IT!! We got to the lists!! This is exactly what we were aiming for. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR SUPPORT!! I am truly humbled. Praise God!!
You can now buy As the Minstrel Playeth!!