Todd recently sent me a tape of two of his songs, and he wanted me to critique and comment on them in the "Refiner's Fire" list. While that's a great idea, I feel strongly that I need to talk about them in the main list
because for me, listening to the songs, particularly the song about the temple took me back to my feelings when we had some discussions about musical appropriateness a few months ago. Listening to these songs, even in their unfinished demo form, has inspired me to put these thoughts onto "paper" so that we all can understand them and discuss them further.
I know that it's a very emotionally charged issue, and I know that many of us have strong beliefs in what we're saying. I also know that these things that I'm expressing are MY opinions and as such are NOT necessarily revealed truth! :-) Others in the group have divergent opinions that can be just as valid as mine, and my opinions are subject to change as I learn from you all.
But before I get into the "issues", I do want to comment on the songs themselves, very briefly. I like them both very much as songs. I love the riff in the temple song. It has a cool sort of "Offspring-y" feel to it,
just on the verge of being punk, but not hard-core. The melody and the guitar work in the second song is very tasty!
So, the big question is: Can a song about the temple be done in a hard rock style? What about in a hard-core twangy country sound? What about by a rapper? A fiddle jig by a bluegrass band? A bombastic symphony or opera?
Ultimately, what we're asking is this: What is the role of style in conveying meaning?
I believe that music is emotion and thought communicated by sounds. As composers and producers, there are a lot of sounds available to us in our palette to paint with. As Julia D A pointed out in a quote by Lex DeA, a sound is not, in and of itself, evil or good. Ecclesiastes points out that there is a time and season for everything (turn, turn, turn... :-) ). The thing that we need to remember is that sounds, by association, communicate emotion to listeners. They hear a sound, and associate it with an experience in their past and that creates an emotional response. Part of the problem is that many people have had many different experiences with many different sounds, so it's difficult to match them up in everyone.
Still, there are certain emotions that seem to be generally associated with certain styles of music. Because of my own long-term association with the rock sound and genre, I can speak quite clearly for it. I'd welcome people with experiences in other genres to do a similar thing for country and bluegrass, and folk, and... etc...
Rock music, particularly harder rock, in my mind, communicates the following emotions really well (in no particular order of importance):
- Sadness, loss
- Fun and enjoyment
- Indignation (righteous or not)
- Some ways of expressing love's power and exhilaration
And unfortunately, many have used it to convey spiritually destructive emotions like quick thrills and lust.
This is, by no means, a comprehensive list. I'll probably think of more before I close up this essay.
Some things that Rock, particularly hard rock doesn't handle as well are:
- Other ways of expressing love's calm beauty
This is not to say that some hard rock bands don't on occasion do songs that are peaceful, tranquil, even gentle love songs. But those songs usually are not hard rock in sound.
So, let's get back to my original question: Can a song about the temple be done in a hard rock style? (or any of those other styles I mentioned).
The answer, in my mind is: Yes, with a very big IF.
That should probably be spelled, "IIIIFFFF".
And that if is: IF the treatment of the emotion is correct. Let me draw from two opposite examples of my own life.
ONE: Before I married, I wrote a song about temple marriage called, "Promises, Promises". It dealt with the fact that we make strong promises to each other binding ourselves together in the sealing covenant. It was
written with a rock, even a bit of a hard, rock beat.
The song didn't work. Why? I think a lot of it was that when I wrote it, I had never been through a sealing ceremony, and I had no idea what it was like or about. Yes, the ceremony is powerful, which if you check my list, is there in the rock list, but it's a more contemplative kind of power. Every time I participate in a sealing, either by proxy, or as a watcher, or even in my own wedding, I have come away with a beautiful, uplifting sort of calm, and an expanded mind. The song was kind of up-tempo and energetic. It doesn't fit the emotional treatment of the experience. The result? That song has been permanently mothballed.
TWO: Many times when I do a session in the temple, I come away with the feeling that I have been "quickened by the Spirit." To me, that's an excitement, an exhilaration that grabs me and makes me want to go out and DO something GREAT! It moves my feet and my soul at the same time. For a brief moment in time, the Lord gives me a glimpse of the total awe of the universe.
I can remember once at the MTC, as we came out of our usual P-Day temple session, I was feeling this way, possibly for the fist time. The song in my head as I walked the clouds back to our dorm at the MTC and immersed myself in the work was the ending of "Supper's Ready" by Genesis/Peter Gabriel. It's a huge, slow sound, full of guitars and keyboards and drums in a loud climax of volume. The words, excerpted:
"Can't you feel our souls ignite
Sparking ever changing colors
In the darkness of the fading night...
"...There's an angel standing in the sun
And he's crying in a loud voice,
'This is the supper of the mighty one
Lord of Lords
King of Kings
Has returned to lead His children home
To take them to their New Jerusalem'"
And it matched perfectly the emotion I was feeling. That song helped carry me through the day, and still inspires me even now.
So, my point is, that IF the subject treatment matches the music's emotional message, then the song works. And that's regardless of the style, and regardless of the topic.
For example: A hard rock song about the peace of the temple doesn't work. But-A hard rock song about the frustrating struggle to get one's life cleaned up to be temple worthy DOES work, and they're both about the temple.
Another example: A bluegrass jig about a temple wedding and the deep covenants made there, doesn't work. BUT-A bluegrass jig about the family joy and celebration that comes when a family member is worthily sealed to another, joining two families together, starting a third, in an eternal connection, WORKS.
I could go on and on about all this. Prayer, Faith, Enduring, Priesthood, all are topics that can be treated in any style, IF the emotional treatment matches the style chosen.
I should add another "IF". The song has to be written from a perspective of respect. If I were to write a song mocking the temple, it wouldn't matter what style the song were, it wouldn't work, and ultimately would lead to my condemnation.
It has sure helped me to clarify my thoughts on the subject as I've written this, and I hope it helps many others understand the possibilities that lay open to us in artistic expression.
Come back often to hear about new songs and shows. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including his Dutch Oven blog: Mark's Black Pot and his LDS pop culture blog: MoBoy blog.