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Timeless music

Music | INTERVIEW: Patrick Kavanaugh explains why true music lovers recognize the greatness and value of classical music

Issue: "Who will be the next pope?," April 16, 2005

While most of us may be stuck in the style of music we listened to as teenagers, true music lovers recognize the greatness and value of classical music, even though it is not as immediately accessible as pop music. So for help to appreciate it fully, WORLD asked Patrick Kavanaugh, the artistic director of the MasterWorks Festival ("God is interested in excellence," July 31, 2004), and the author of The Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers.

WORLD: Why should Christians upgrade their musical tastes?

Kavanaugh: You would think it sad if someone could turn away from a gorgeous sunset and not even notice it. It is equally sad when many Christians never hone their capacity to appreciate "the beauty of the Lord" found within the greatest music ever written.

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WORLD: What is a good way to get started with classical music?

Kavanaugh: The world of classical music covers many centuries of changing styles. Some of these are easy for the average person to immediately appreciate, while others are an acquired taste. First, you need to examine your present taste in popular music. We learn best by association with what we already know. Do you like "easy listening"? Then buy a collection titled "Soothing Classical." Do you prefer romantic love songs? Then find a collection such as "Romantic Classics." For the younger set, like your teenage son, remember the adjectives "loud," "fast," "big," and "colorful." Even the heaviest rocker will love the huge orchestra works of the early 20th century-music by Debussy, Ravel, and Stravinsky.

WORLD: Who are some distinctly Christian classical composers?

Kavanaugh: A substantial number of the great classical composers were dedicated Christians. This may surprise those who have only seen Hollywood's version of composers, such as the notoriously fictitious Amadeus. In my book, The Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers, I present the documented evidence for the faith of 20 composers, including such masters as Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Brahms, Dvorak, Ives, and Stravinsky. There are also many less famous musicians throughout history who followed Christ and wrote their music to the glory of God.

WORLD: Much popular music conveys immoral and anti-biblical messages. Is that a problem with classical music?

Kavanaugh: All Christians need to be discerning about the music they experience, which is yet another reason to explore classical music. It has already been scrutinized by "the test of time." If we only listen to contemporary music, we have to sort through so much mediocrity that it is difficult to tell what truly has lasting value.

There is little chance for finding an "anti-biblical message" in classical music. Today's popular music is almost exclusively vocal, while the majority of classical is instrumental. Much of the immorality in contemporary music is contained in the lyrics. This is not a problem if your kids are listening to a Mozart symphony or a Brahms sonata for piano.

WORLD: What is the value of learning to play a musical instrument?

Kavanaugh: In one of my books, I listed many different areas where music lessons help in the raising of our children: the encouragement of perseverance, confidence, responsibility, identity and self-esteem, discipline, creativity, teamwork, using time wisely, following directions, identification of talents, and a love of music, art, culture, and history.

Learning to play an instrument also has spiritual value. The Bible contains dozens of passages about music and its importance in praising our Lord. Since our talents are a gift from God, what better way to thank Him than to use those gifts to honor Him.

WORLD: How does music fit into the Christian worldview?

Kavanaugh: J.S. Bach once said that the ultimate purpose of music was for the glory of God and the recreation of the human spirit. Franz Joseph Haydn late in his life attended a hugely successful performance of his masterpiece, The Creation. As the music ended and the audience applauded enthusiastically, Haydn lifted his hands toward heaven and said, "Not from me-from there, above, comes everything."

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