Jazz Charges Emotions

Jazz Charges Emotions*

How Jazz Affects Us.

Melvin Hill, Chairman, Music Department, Union College

A person may know what music pleases him, but unless he has valid cri­teria to measure musical values, he should realize that his is a personal and not .a critical judgment. The extensive use of ra­dio and TV in our homes, in restaurants, doctor's of­fices, and the like has in­troduced a tremendous influence that has brought about very liberal attitudes toward popular music, jazz, and con­temporary styles.

Our entire musical philosophy should be one of endeavoring to please the Holy Spirit. There are two important questions to be answered in developing your own critical judgment in your choice of music. Let us deal with the first of these in this issue.

Music Classified

A very ancient and a very modern way of classifying music is according to its influence upon those participating in it, whether in an active or a passive manner. What do certain types of music really do to us?

The reigning type of popular music heard to­day stems from the Beatles—loud, with a heavy beat, amplified instruments, wailing voices, and other factors familiar to all of us. (Other words to describe today's music are jazz, swing, hot, and so on.) We shall use jazz as a composite term.

Jazz is condemned as being sinful. It is true that it originated in the honky-tonks of New Orleans, but does that make it bad? Does the use of syncopation make it wicked? Beethoven also uses syncopation in his Moonlight Sonata. Maybe jazz is bad because it uses combined rhythms. But so do Stravinsky and Chopin. Per­haps the condemnation stems from the way the musicians arrange themselves on the stage, and the kind of mutes they use.

We cannot say whether jazz is good or bad on the basis of its history, its use of syncopation, or for any of the other factors just pointed out. These arguments are used as a basis for denouncing jazz, but I do not think that they are valid. I think that a preferred procedure would be the use of reasoning based upon re­search and fact.

How It Affects You

Jazz can be attacked successfully when you honestly evaluate how it affects you. What does it do to your emotional balance, and does the music along with the words suggest ideas that are wholesome and actions that are proper? Mu­sic is what happens inside us as we listen to it. Music affects our emotions, our emotions in­fluence our thoughts, and our thoughts are responsible for our conduct.

Music is only one way in which emotions can be aroused or modified, but it is a very important one. Under the right conditions and circumstances, it is perfectly proper to arouse emotions of strength, or of joy, or of love in ourselves and in others—through any means available, including music. It must be remem­bered, however, that emotions cause us to act. Therefore, as emotional tensions mount within us, we want to be certain that we have an ade­quate means of releasing these tensions in a way that is acceptable to God and to society.

The kind of music used almost exclusively in night clubs, in taverns, in dance halls, in the parlors of houses of prostitution, and in strip tease joints is jazz. Why? Only because the kind of music used assists in the successful opera­tion of these establishments. It helps to bring in customers, who forget themselves by taking advantage of their natural liking for musical sounds.

That Satan would seek to use the gift of music for his own devilish purpose is not sur­prising. What good thing has the Lord given us that Satan has not been able to pervert in order to degrade the human race? I cannot imagine a Christian person who is naive enough to discount the devil's use of music; yet ques­tionable music pours in a torrent from the radio, TV, and record players into supposedly Chris­tian homes, hour after hour and day after day. Many times when questioned, I have heard peo­ple say, "I have the music on, but what is playing is not important. It is just for back­ground."

We cannot shut out music; this is an estab­lished fact! It is possible to shut out speech and not hear what is being said. We can refuse to permit noise to distract us. Music, however, enters our brain on a subverbal level and has an influence on us whether we realize it or not.

The physical changes that occur within our bodies as we listen to music have been meas­ured. Music actually does raise or lower blood pressure, depending upon the type of music. It changes the resistance of the body tissues to the passage of electric current as measured by the galvanometer. Brain waves are altered from their usual pattern, papillary reflexes change, and a host of other physiological changes take place as we listen to music.

There are also statistics which indicate that the more a person listens to music the more it affects him. This is especially true in the extreme types of music. It can become like a drug, with the addict demanding greater and greater quan­tities—and just as the drug addict requires more and more potent drugs, so do the devotees of jazz require more and more extreme music as time goes on.

In choosing music for your personal use, it is well to ask yourself first this important ques­tion: How does this music and the manner in which it is performed affect me? I ask myself the same question when approving music for cam­pus functions, music recitals and programs, and tours. I ask myself this question concerning both sacred and secular music. I know the answer isn't always the same as others would give, but knowing that research has indicated that music affects most people similarly, confi­dence is generated to observe certain standards.

If there is emotional and physical concentration, we must be concerned with Ellen G. White's injunction that "when turned to good account, music is a blessing; but it is often made one of Satan's most attractive agencies to ensnare souls."

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Melvin Hill, Chairman, Music Department, Union College

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