Music: Memories

Sing “This Little Light of Mine” … and do it with a frown on your face.  Go ahead. I dare you.  I’m pretty sure it can’t be done.  Music is infectious, and the infection has many causes.  In the case of This Little Light of Mine, I think it has to do with associations we make with happy childhood memories.  Maybe it’s vacation Bible school or a children’s Sunday School.

We attach memories to music, and revisiting the music helps us remember things.  It connects us to emotions and memories, but in the case of sacred music, it also connects us to our theology.

Consider any song your remember from worship.  There is something there that is beyond just a catchy tune.  The lyrics teach and preach.  We humans also have a knack for getting tunes stuck in our heads.  The lyrics (or at least a chorus or two) often go along for the ride, carrying their message into our subconscious (or sometimes directly into the forefront of our conscious) mind.

What about music that is Scripture?  Check out Matthew, chapter 1.  There is a lot of important background in the list of the names of the genealogy leading to Jesus’ birth.  There are kings, good and bad, women, sinners, saints, triumphs, and defeats.  It is so important, but how would anyone memorize all that?  Check out Andrew Peterson’s answer:

I’m a huge fan of Andrew Peterson, primarily because his songs are deeply rooted in Scripture.  Matthew’s Begats is among my favorites.  Whenever I go to one of his concerts where this song is performed, I am amazed at how many people sing along from memory.  They memorized a catchy tune, and the genealogy of Christ came along for the ride.  For the younger members of the audience I relish the thought of when they start to do a study of the Old Testament of the Bible.  They have a huge head start on seeing the connection of those stories to the coming of Jesus in the New Testament.

Human memory is a funny thing, too.  I always loved the hymn It is Well With My Soul, and memorized the chorus, but could never seem to commit the verses to memory.  … Until one day when I heard the version sung by Jeremy and Adie Camp on the Amazing Grace movie soundtrack.  Listen below:

At first I wasn’t sure I liked it, but it found its way to getting stuck in my mind.  I found myself humming along and eventually singing along in the car.  The next time I sang it in church I noticed I didn’t need to look at the words.  They were finally in my memory for good.

Is the meaning of the message changed?  Perhaps it is.  It may have a different tempo, certainly the different instrumentation yields a different tone, but the meaning of the lyrics are nearly constant despite musical changes.  The theology echos through the centuries.

Of course there are all kinds of music, with all kinds of messages capable of getting stuck in our heads.  Isn’t it a glorious blessing when we can take a message from our Creator with us wherever we go, and sing along?


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