This past weekend, I discovered a delightful new album that mixed Mozart horn concertos with mambo music featuring the French horn. The promotional video for the album showed a colorfully arrayed orchestra playing a mambo on a Havana street, the musicians dancing to their own music.
The music was infectious in its joy and fun. The musicians themselves couldn’t stop smiling, and the onlookers were dancing in the streets. I couldn’t stop grooving even as I sat on the couch. The joy of the music and the musicians was captivating. For me, it was the epitome of why musicians do what they do—to bring joy.
Glorifying God is True and Good
Johann Sebastian Bach attributed his music-making to the glory of God, writing SDG for soli Deo gloria—to God alone be the glory—at the end of every piece. We would do well to follow Bach’s example here, not necessarily in literally writing SDG at the end of all of our music, but in recognizing that our point in making music is to glorify God. God is, after all, the final end of our endeavors. A life lived without this knowledge is futile and leads only to despair. So in music-making, like in everything else a Christian does, we glorify God.
In glorifying God, we are doing as we ought—we are doing what is true. A life lived according to what is true is a good life. It is a life of purpose and confidence. A common theme in literature and stories in any medium is that a life of lies ends in confusion, anger, despair, and sadness. How many times have you watched a movie in which a character lies about something, and you predict the misery that follows because of that lie? At times (thank you, Shakespeare), the lie is the basis of a comedy, but the happy ending occurs only because the truth is finally known. Despite the consequences that usually follow truth-telling, we know that “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). The truth sets you free from the burden of a guilty conscience and from the confusion of non-reality.
Joy in Truth
Knowing the truth and living according to it sets you free to live a life of purpose and confidence, indeed—but also a life of joy. When you are free from the fetters of a lie, you can live joyfully even in sadness, knowing that the passing sadness you experience is not lasting. And this is what music gives us: joy. Theology, the study of God, tells us the truth and gives us joy and hope in Christ. Music calms our emotions and brings us joy. Theology tells us what is and music communicates that in a way that appeals to our emotions.
When we know the truth (God) and direct our lives to live out that truth (do everything to the glory of God) we have joy. Performing music to the glory of God—its true purpose—brings us joy and effectively communicates that joy to others.
Living out Christian Joy as a Musician
How do we live out this joyful music-making? First of all, we must perform music in truth. As we teach and listen and play, we need to distinguish good from bad and make corrections accordingly. It does not help a child to tell them they sound lovely when they do not, just as it does not help us to call bad music good only because it is a fad of our times or a popular piece in certain learned circles.
Secondly, we perform music in humility, recognizing that it is used to glorify God, not to promote ourselves. Of course, as musicians, we should be confident in our abilities and able to market ourselves for business purposes, but we should never be arrogant. A humble heart is another freedom, as it does not despise correction or fear critique. It frees us to accept both positive and negative reactions with grace, seeing neither success nor failure as final but using both as a way to grow in skill.
Finally, performing music with joy to the glory of God means that we, indeed, perform music with joy. Our music, both sacred and secular, should be a thing of delight and wonder. Not that our song is always happy, but that the very act of performing music soothes and cheers us. Our joy as musicians then translates to our listeners who are affected by the joy with which we perform our music.
Remember, we have the truth. We have the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And while the world may not be able to understand this truth and may be mired in greed and arrogance and pride and power and, ultimately, despair, we have been given the vocation of musician to bring perfect and lasting joy to those who are hurting.
Play your music with joy and dance to that mambo. For it is our loving Savior’s lavish gift to us that we may proclaim the truth in joy through our music.
Sometimes, to play joyously, you need to incorporate new music into your rotation. Take a look at the new music releases below to find something fun to play.