We live in a world dominated by digital technology—technology that majorly affects our modern musical world. Although digital technology can offer us a wealth of music we might otherwise not have access to, digital recordings lack the inherent risk of live performance—a risk that lends live performances a certain sense of humanity. This humanity reflects the reality of our lives, including the reality of salvation through Christ. Although digital technology in the musical world is a great gift, it is a worthy endeavor to continue to pursue live musical performances in order to experience the wonder and beauty of music that we must take as is in all its imperfection.
God’s Gift of Digital Technology
Technology, particularly technology concerning music, has a significant place in the Church. Today, the word technology can have a negative connotation. We love to blame technology for all sorts of societal ills. However, technology allows us to attend live concerts, spend time practicing daily, provide for our families, and have access to the world’s greatest music and musical performances on demand.
In the Church, not only are the instruments we play a form of technology, but specifically, digital technology provides us with clean and edited sheet music written on computers, printed, and distributed at low costs. Furthermore, many churches unable to house or fund a pipe organ rely instead on electronics to deliver the audio of that instrument with an electronic organ. Thanks be to God we have such wonderful and accessible options!
Additionally, digital options like Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube give us access to fantastic performances of practically any music selection we choose with the tap of a finger. No longer are concerts reserved for the aristocracy at the availability of live musicians. Instead, one recording can grant the music of the masters to the layman and his family at any time. I can even “attend” a live concert while nursing my newborn from the comfort of my own home. All of these options open a world of musical literacy to everyone.
Negatives of Digital Technology
On the other hand, I am sometimes torn about the easy access we have to music via digital technology. Families gain access not only to musical classics but also can easily access crude music with immoral lyrics. The widespread use of digital technology also decreases our attention spans, making it difficult for us to comfortably sit through an hour-long symphony.
Furthermore, while we are thankful that some congregations can make use of technology to provide a service to those who cannot make it to church or provide music sans organist, these things can also become a crutch when members learn to rely on digital technology instead of reaping the benefits of in-person attendance and the community of proximity with fellow church members.
The Humanity of Live Performances
I also posit that live music is generally superior to digital recordings. While recordings make music easy to access, there is a certain beauty and mystery to a live performance beyond even the quality of sound. Recordings are edited and polished for an excellent performance; on the other hand, live performances carry a risk that the musicians might mess up in front of a crowd of people. This risk lends humanity to live performances that digital recordings lack. This humanity also exists in the physical proximity of performers and listeners. There is a personal connection when the people listening to your music are right in front of your face.
Furthermore, the listener cannot control the music in live performances. When I listen to Spotify, I can pause the music, skip to the next song, play a song again, turn the volume up or down, and even adjust the balance of bass and treble. When I am listening to a live performance, I have to take what get. It does not matter if I do not like a piece in a concert or a hymn in church; I must put up with it. On the other hand, if there is a beautiful moment, I cannot replay that again. There is a greater beauty to that moment, knowing that it can never be recaptured. The spontaneity of live music cannot be recreated in a digital world.
Live Musical Performances as a Reflection of Our Lives
Our humanity is important. Jesus took it upon Himself to walk this earth and suffer temptation, wounds, and death for us. Our humanity is not sterile. While we suffer greatly here on earth, we also experience intense beauty and wonder. Live music can be inconvenient and mediocre, but it also allows us to experience unplanned moments of beauty and wonder. It is a reflection of humanity when a great moment of beauty appears in the middle of sadness, suffering, or mere monotony. In this, we also find a reflection of our salvation, that Christ would offer the ultimate sacrifice—a sacrifice of suffering and death—to bring us to the ultimate beauty and wonder of heaven.
Technology, even digital technology, is a wonderful thing. It allows us to experience beauty every day. However, it is important not to neglect the reflection of humanity present in live music. We should encounter live performances with the knowledge that while they may not be perfect, they will also not be sterile and safe. Like ourselves and the realities of the lives we live on this earth, live music allows for unexpected moments of great beauty and wonders outside of our control and amid imperfection. These moments are ultimately a reflection of the beauty and wonder of Christ’s sacrifice for us. He suffered and died to secure our salvation and our place in heaven—the greatest place of beauty and wonder.
Want to read more about technology in the life of the church? Try reading Redeeming Technology: A Christian Approach to Healthy Digital Habits.