Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Music, religion and appreciation

I typically do not appreciate music at all. While there are rare exceptions, music typically leaves me aesthetically cold or annoys me (though there may be a non-aesthetic emotional impact, say of creepy music during a scary part of a movie). This inability to appreciate music is a kind of disability, one that I hope will be gone in heaven (plus the music there will be better), since music seems an important part of the human good of aesthetic appreciation.

I suspect that how I typically feel about music is how many (though not all) non-religious people feel about religion: while it may be good for others, it's just not something one finds oneself getting anything out of. But I think there is a crucial disanalogy. For it is uncontroversial that to be properly benefited by receptive aesthetic goods, like those proper to listening to music or contemplating a painting, one needs to experience them with appreciation. One gets nothing from musical goods without listening to the music, and mere listening gets one nothing of the aesthetic good if one doesn't appreciate. (Though experiencing the art without appreciation can lead to later development of appreciation, and an analogous claim can be true of religious practice.) But according to many of the great religions, many of the goods of participation—say, innate transformations of the soul, the intrinsic value of praising God, etc.—can occur in the absence of experiential appreciation.

There is also another disanalogy. Participating in religious goods isn't exactly analogous to experiencing works of art. Rather, it is analogous both to experiencing and to creating them. And creating works of art is an aesthetic good that perhaps does not require appreciation of the works of art that one is creating. One could have a sculptor who manages to express her artistic vision in incredible ways, but who incorrectly experiences herself as producing junk. The artist need not understand her work.


Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Try listening to Eastern Orthodox chant or hymns in the old Slavic or old Russian while contemplating Icons and praying on either a Rosary or the Jesus Prayer on a Chotki (knotted prayer rope, similar to a Rosary, considered to be the Sword of the Spirit in the Eastern Chruches). It might help.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

While I do appreciate most music, there are some songs that I just can't stand. Unfortunately this time of year Christmas music is playing everywhere. I have nothing against the Christmas, the theme of the songs or anything, its just that for an entire month I get to hear mangled versions of carols over and over again. Take "Joy to the World" as an example. You can hear the Classical version, the Country version, the opera sopranao version, the opera tenor version, the Rock version, the Jazz version, the Gospel version, the Blues version, the Mall Muzack version, the Dentist office version, the Heavy Metal version, the electronic synthesized version, the drunk band in the beer hall with the oompa version, and worst of all the anyone who thinks he/she can sing version. And no matter which station you tune into, you can't escape. This is why I tune my radio to a talk station this time of year until December 25 has passed.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Listening to this always makes me think about God and mankind:

Unknown said...

'I suspect that how I typically feel about music is how many (though not all) non-religious people feel about religion: while it may be good for others, it's just not something one finds oneself getting anything out of.'

In relation to this comment, I share much of the same views on music with you. However, in contrast, I am also a non-believer. But not because I don't feel that I don't get anything out of religion.

I think the comparison you made here was humorous but needs clarifying.

Alexander R Pruss said...

There are different reasons people aren't religious. Some because they don't believe central religious doctrines. Some because they think religion is harmful to society. But I suspect that in our culture many non-religious people simply don't think religion is helpful in their lives, though they acknowledge that it's helpful in the lives of others. Some of these non-religious people don't believe central doctrines from any religion, but some still believe. I kind of suspect that the majority, or close to the majority, of non-religious people in our culture is like this.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

How I've experienced music has changed with age. I grew up in a household where both parents played classical piano. My mother told me that when I was an infant, I would cry whenever something was played in a minor key. As a child I would listen for hours as my father played the piano. I recall absolutely loving the middle Andante portion of Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 23, the Appassionata. This middle portion has been turned into a very nice Christmas hymn by Latvians and is sung or played on Christmas Eve in Latvian churches. What I couldn't stand was the harsh, fast beginning and end movements. They were very mentally uncomfortable for me. I sat and litterally endured them to get to that lovely middle movement. I felt that I had to sit through them for some reasons. When I was learning how to play the piano as a child, I liked the stuff written in a major key, but found it difficult to mentally endure stuff written in a minor key although I had to practice until it was perfect. Now that was a form of torture. Ditto for anything with a disonant harmony. Anything disonant would feel like a jar to my nerves. Things changed when I became a teenager. As a teenager, I loved things in a minor key, and felt that stuff in a major key was too bland. I found that disonant harmonies no longer jarred my nerves but made a piece interesting. I know of an excellent way to torture the nerves of family members that doesn't involve ear-splitting headbanger stuff - Beethoven's "Fur Elise" (For Elise). Beethoven wrote it for one of his girlfriends. Ever since then, hopelessly lovesick teenyboppers have driven family members insane by endlessly playing it over and over and over.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Brian Zaldana:

Thank you for your youtube link. I've always had various visual images of different scenes in mind when listening to music.

Alexander R Pruss said...


I have no idea what a major or minor key sounds like...

Dagmara Lizlovs said...


Typically music written in a major key sounds happy and light; music written in a minor key sounds sad, melancholy, solemn, moody or dark. This is an over simplification, and there are sometimes sad songs written in a major key. Since we are in Advent approaching Christmas, I will list hymns/carols that are written in major and minor keys.

In the major key we have:

Hark the Heral Angels Sing
Joy to the World
Angels We Have Hear On High
Go Tell It On The Mountain
Come All Ye Faithfull

In the minor key we have:

Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
What Child Is This (Greensleeves)
We Three Kings Of Orient Are
Coventry Carol
Carol of the Bells

"Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel" is derived from an ancient tune that is more modal than it is in a minor key. This is because early Church music including chant was written in modes rather than modern scales.

"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" has the verses in a minor key and the refrain of "Oh Tidings of Comfort and Joy . . ." are in a major key.

"Carol of the Bells" comes from an old pre-Christian Ukranian folk chant melody.

While "Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" represent the solemnity of this time of year, Coventry Carol is the bleakest of the ones listed because its theme is based on the King Herod's Slaughter of the Innocents comemorated on December 28.

There are pieces written in a minor key that are not necessarily as sad or dark as they are passionately romantic. An example would be Sergei Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 especially the middle movement (which contains a second theme in a major key). Many of Frederic Chopin's works are also like that.

Hope this helps.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

As for bad Christmas songs in my earlier comments. Here is a sampling of what I mean: