Music--How It Affects The Whole Man Part 3

Music--How It Affects The Whole Man (Part 3--Influence on the Mind)

BECAUSE the mind can subconsciously be affected by music, we can easily recognize its potential for controlling the mind. Gitler observed what psychologists have shown through investigation, that rhythm is a prime factor. . .

-an associate professor of music at Walla Walla College at the time this article was written

BECAUSE the mind can subconsciously be affected by music, we can easily recognize its potential for controlling the mind. Gitler observed what psychologists have shown through investigation, that rhythm is a prime factor. "Rock has a pervasive beat and the audience responds to it on a primal level." 1 John Philips, of the Mamas and the Papas, found through observation and experimentation that riot and hysteria can be created "by carefully con trolling the sequence of rhythms. . . . We know how to do it. ... Anyone knows how to do it." 2

Time observed: "In a sense, all rock is revolutionary. By its very beat and sound, it has always implicitly rejected restraint and has celebrated freedom and sexuality." 3

In his latest book, The Day Music Died, Bob Larson documents numerous examples of the use of rock music, in which its qualities of sound as well as its lyrics are used to further the spirit of anarchy and revolution in America.

One group, Country Joe and The Fish, are known to have assisted the Black Panthers and the SDS. A performance of the Detroit quintet called the MC5 was described by their original manager, John Sinclair: "The MC5 are a free, high-energy source that will drive us wild into the streets of America." 4 Larson also quotes from Hit Parader Magazine, March, 1968, which carried a satirical article on the power and influence of rock music: "Suppose you wanted to take control of a country. You could take over without firing a shot. Use popular music. Let's say you wanted to take control of the United States. Start working on the young impressionable minds of the high school and college students. You can influence them with subtle propaganda through your agents in the folk music scene. Their first move is to start singing protest songs. They create dissent and gain sympathizers." 5

Jerry Rubin sums up the relation between his political ambitions and the Yippie life-style: "We have merged new left politics with the psychedelic lifestyle. Our life style acid, long hair, freaky clothes, pot, rock music, sex is the revolution. Our very existence mocks America." 6

Satanic Power in Music

Unfortunately, the influence on the mind goes deeper than morals or politics. Drawing on his personal experience, Bob Larson tells what it is like to feel satanic power through music:

"I was aware of the connection between demons and dancing even before my conversion. . . . You learn to control your crowd by the music that you play. I have played one song continuously for as long as fifteen to twenty minutes. There were times while playing rock music that I became so engrossed and my senses so deadened, that I was hardly aware of what was going on about me. As a minister, I know now what it is like to feel the unction of the Holy Spirit. As a rock musician, I knew what it meant to feel the counterfeit anointing of Satan." 7

He then relates the unusual experience of a 16-year-old hippie, recounted to him by a friend who works among the hippies: "One day he asked my friend to turn on the radio to a rock station. As they listened, this teenager would relate, just prior to the time the singer on the recording would sing them, the words to songs he had never heard before. When asked how he could do this, the sixteen-year-old replied that the same demon spirits that he was acquainted with had inspired the songs. Also, he explained, that while on LSD trips he could hear demons sing some of the very songs he would later hear recorded by acid rock groups." 8

The Religious Beat

In addition\to more direct assaults on the mind that have been discussed, there is one which, be cause of its extremely subtle dis guise, may prove to be even more devastating than all the rest. We have seen that human response to music is basic and its message, particularly in the popular music field, is understood universally. What happens to a person who has responded to jazz (including the milder forms of swing), soul, or rock in their natural setting, when he hears the same basic beat and style in a religious setting complete with religious words? (For sake of discussion let us assume that the words are scriptural.) How does the mind react to this mixture of good and evil? Ellen White tells us that this was the very technique used to cause the fall of man. "By the mingling of evil with good, his mind had become confused."9

Acceptance of the good-evil mixture or constantly operating close to the borderline is compromise, and nowhere is this more evident than in the field of religious music. The mass media has so thoroughly conditioned the masses with a diet of infectious dance rhythms that anything but this seems bland and dull. This has resulted in something akin to an obsession among many Seventh-day Adventist gospel music composers and performers to clothe all gospel music with some kind of dance beat.

Although some groups are more cautious or "conservative," the standard fare of most groups includes thinly disguised hybrid forms of dance styles such as waltz, swing (fox trot), country Western, soft rock, and folk rock. Some at tempt to disguise or rationalize their style under the guise of being a "folk group." It is quite obvious that these groups are using models whose goals are not compatible with Seventh-day Adventist theology. According to Ellen G. White, this mixture of dance rhythms and gospel music not only created a problem early in the history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, but she also predicted its re-occurrence. Certainly Paul's admonition is relevant here: "Do not be conformed to this world" (Rom. 12:2, R.S.V.).

Sensation Versus Experience

The dangers inherent in reacting to music only on the sensual level should be apparent at this point. In addition to the risk of being influenced if not "brainwashed" by the mass media, the born-again Christian will ultimately be concerned about two other aspects maturity, both mental and emotional, and responsibility to others. In his discussion on value and greatness in music, Meyer emphasizes the aspect of maturity:

"The differentia between art music and primitive music lies in speed of tendency gratification. The primitive seeks almost immediate gratification for his tendencies whether these be biological or musical. One aspect of maturity, both of the individual and of the culture within which a style arises, consists in the willingness to forgo immediate, and perhaps lesser gratification, for the sake of future ultimate gratification." 10

There is a distinct difference in the psychological effect of music whose appeal is basically sensation-oriented and that which provides a genuine aesthetic experience. Music that appeals only to the senses adds nothing to the individual's knowledge, expertise, or awareness of beauty. On the other hand, music that has value appeals not just to the senses but to the intellect as well. This provides an experience that is additive and communicable; its repetition, because of the involvement of the mind, creates a more sensitive and musically aware individual.

The advocates of rock music insist that it should not be evaluated by established standards because they claim it is a "now" thing, based on sensation that changes with changing styles, valuable only at the time of its performance. This is in contrast to the term experience that can be applied to serious music.

"Sensation is personal, private, confined, and incommunicable. (Our sensations are what we receive.) Or, in a dictionary definition, 'sensation is consciousness of perceiving or seeming to perceive some state or affection of one's body or its parts or senses of one's mind or emotions.' If I could not share it, it would not be an experience. It would be a sensation, a message which came to me and me alone. Sensations from their very nature then, are intimate and ineffable. Experience takes us out of ourselves, sensation affirms and emphasizes the self." 11

The mature Christian does not live merely to please himself. He is concerned about others and enjoys sharing his experiences. Ellen White (1913) reminds us of the real meaning and purpose of musical culture. While we are to develop all capabilities of the mind to the "highest possible degree of excellence" she warns: "This can not be a selfish and exclusive culture; for the character of God, whose likeness we are to receive, is benevolence and love. Every faculty, every attribute, with which the Creator has endowed us is to be employed for His glory and for the uplifting of our fellow men." 12

This does not mean that to be worth while, music must be complicated. Music can be simple and appealing to the untrained listener without being trite, cheap, or sensational, and still be enjoyed by the trained musician.


Music as one of God's marvelous gifts to man will never be fully understood in this life. Nevertheless, we do have access to scientific information, inspired counsel, and life experiences that give us adequate means of under standing its basic nature and purpose. For Seventh-day Adventists who read and accept the writings of Ellen G. White the purpose of music is clear: to praise and glorify God and to edify man. It is a means through which God can communicate with man and reveal aspects of His divine nature. As such, it can be used to promote the physical, emotional, and mental health of the individual. Be cause music can be perceived by the brain (thalamus) and enjoyed without being evaluated for moral content, it is easy to see how Satan can gain access to the mind. In this way he is able to blunt the spiritual perceptions as well as create or encourage certain emotional states.

Music has meaning because of its intrinsic qualities and associations. Musical meaning ranges from the highly abstract, which does not cross cultures easily, to the more functional, psychomotor oriented which crosses cultures quite readily. Therefore, in spite of cultural and educational differences, music is a universal language. The basic elements of music pitch, volume, rhythm, and to a great extent, melody and harmony affect the mental and physical processes of all peoples in a remarkably similar manner. In addition, the way in which these elements are combined results in a symbolic representation of life. Music is a product of a culture, and in turn it influences that culture.

It should be noted that the more abstract the music, the more education is required to make that music meaningful to an individual. For example, much of the meaning of absolute music (concertos, symphonies, et cetera) would tend to elude the inexperienced listener until he has learned some of the basic syntactical relationships in music. On the other hand, it can be demonstrated that theoretical knowledge is not a prerequisite to enjoyment. With repeated listening any adult or child without fear or prejudice can develop a deep and lasting appreciation for a vast amount of "classical" music. Of course, knowledge always increases interest. However, even though the musical meaning may not be understood by the musically untrained it has been demonstrated that mood response is quite universal.

Apparently, the more functional the music, the more universal and consistent the behavioral response will be. Because the human body is rhythmic by nature, the rhythmic element in music is the most influential (assuming that pitch and volume are below the thresh old of pain).

Man, created in the image of God, has both the capacity and the need for aesthetic experiences. Along with the capacity to love and create beauty, man, be cause of his carnal nature, also has the ability and tendency to respond to counterfeits of beauty. The combination of scientific evidence and inspired counsel should be more than adequate to substantiate the theory of moral influence in music. To this we can add the testimony of those who have been involved in musical activity either as composers, performers, or consumers.

I have discussed ways in which the mind and body can be influenced by music. This influence is just as real whether it is accomplished by the hypnotic dance rhythms of the latest rock and roll or by the softer sedative swing beat that has been around for thirty-five or forty years. Just as cultures of bacteria thrive in a certain environment, so 1 believe the mental attitudes and emotional states created by certain types of music foster the growth of unChristlike thoughts.

It is the right of every individual to form his own musical taste. However, in view of the scientific evidence of the effect of music on the mind an ethical and moral issue must be raised with respect to all who are engaged in furnishing the public with any kind of musical material. Through teaching, live performances, and the preparation of recorded music, those who are thus engaged are shaping the taste and attitudes of thousands of children, youth, and adults. What motivates us to make choices for the general public? The desire to uplift or the desire for popularity? Christian ideals or commercialism? The thought that we might have conditioned the mind of just one person causing him to reject salvation should be a sobering one indeed. Perhaps some in positions of leadership and responsibility are suffering from the effects of mixing good and evil.

We are told that "the mind in which error has once taken possession can never expand freely to truth, even after investigation." 13 I appeal to all who can and do influence others to take your responsibility seriously, making certain that as a mature Chris tian your "perceptions are trained by long use to discriminate between good and evil" (Heb. 5:14, N.E.B.).*


1. Ira Citler, "A Jazz Man Looks at Rock," Bell, January-February, 1970, p. 20.

2. William Kloman, "Just Call Us the Super Croup," Saturday Evening Post, March 25, 1967, p. 41.

3. "Rock," Time, Jan. 3, 1969, p. 49.

4. "Rock, the Revolutionary Hype," Time, Jan. 3,1969.

5. Bob Larson, The Day Music Died (Carol Stream, Illinois: Creation House, 1972), p. 161.

6. David Wilkerson, Purple Violet Squish (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Books, 1969), p. 30.

7. Larson, op. cit., p. 181.

8. Ibid., pp. 181, 182.

9. Ellen G. White, Education (Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1913), p. 25. (Italics supplied.)

10. Leonard B. Meyer, Emotions and Meaning in Music (Phoenix Books, The University of Chicago Press, 1956), p. 93.

11. Martin Stella, "The Masters of Intimidation," The Instrumentalist, February, 1972, p. 15.

12. Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1913), p. 595.

13. Ellen G. White, Medical Ministry (Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1932), p. 89.

* From The New English Bible.© The Delegates of the Oxford University Press and the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press 1970. Reprinted by permission.

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-an associate professor of music at Walla Walla College at the time this article was written

January 1974

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