CYBERJOURNAL FOR PENTECOSTAL-CHARISMATIC RESEARCH #17
Christian Music As a Discipline: A Religious Appraisal of Christian Music in Nigeria Today
By Yomi Daramola
Christian music has become a unique phenomenon in the musical scene throughout the world. Because of its religious affiliation, it has also become a focus of research in many related fields in the humanities. Also, in many departments of music, most especially in the citadels of learning, it has become an area of specialization. Research has been intensified on its characteristics, types, functions, performance practice and even its thematic sources, its styles and compositional techniques. However, the genre, contemporarily, has suffered a great backwardness because of the lack of professionalism among the majority of its performers in Nigeria today.
From the Bible times, Christian music has been a respectable discipline to the essence that Christian musicians and instrumentalists are not only paid workers of the church, but were also notable people in the Bible. David was credited as the originator of liturgical music who instituted orchestral music with just three of his students who were all Levites. From that time Christian music has become a thing not only of spirit but also of skill.
This paper came out of a personal observation of the trend of events in the performance and production of Christian music in Nigeria today. Live performances of Christian music was observed and audio and video tape materials were analyzed based on ethnomusicological theory that view music art as part of the culture (religion inclusive) it belongs. It is found that, to really curtail the issues of indiscipline and unprofessionalism in the contemporary Christian music, Christian musicians have not only to improve on their skills, but also on their spiritual lives.
Christianity as a religion has music-making as one of its practices from inception. During worship or services, music plays important roles. Any Christian worship or service without music is just like a rainbow without colours. Take away singing from the churches…and the pews will be vacant and innumerable “music halls” and “entertainment houses” will sprout up (Echeruo: 1977)[i]. There is a beauty, majesty; dignity and even personal warmth in service or worship which only music can express. There are so many types of musical practices in worship as are many melodies and styles of expression in music. Actually, all seem to have been given by God that people might more fully express their appreciations for the beauty of His Character. The beauty of skillful music itself reminds us of the beauty of God. Beauty without utility was ordained by God in worship (Exodus: 28ff). God’s word is full of worship music from Genesis to Revelation. Musicians in the Bible times were chosen not only for their music ability, but also for their spiritual sensitivity. Christian music therefore has its foundation as a discipline in the Bible. However, the discontinuity of the Bible time’s professionalism in Christian music has almost cost the discipline its fortune. Apart from providing a paradigm for what should contain in the concept, the content and the context of a Christian music, this paper has also set out to produce a basis for professionalism as an antidote to the menace of indiscipline that has ravaged the practice of Christian music in Nigeria today.
What is Christian Music?
Christian music has been defined as a generic term, which encompasses all types of music with Christian texts. It includes all brands and categories of music consumed in the Christendom whether by the church, Para-church or non-church organizations (Wilson Dickson 1997[ii]; Adedeji 2001[iii]). From the above, it is inferred that the core or basis of any Christian music is the people and the word of Christ, having Christ as its basis, for the people of Christ and the would-be. It is worthy of note here that not all church music is Christian music as not all churchgoers are Christians. The disciples, by their ‘fruits’ were first called Christians in Antioch (Acts 11:26).
The great commission of Christian music is to bring humans and Christ into contact for the benefit of humans. To be qualified as a Christian music, such music therefore, must have in its concept, content, and context some qualities approved by Christ. The exercise of Christian’s spiritual gifts, or better still, the offering of Christian music (as a worship or otherwise) is up-to-date when it selflessly puts the interests and edification of others into consideration.
This is a general idea, thought, or understanding on which something is based. Every music system is predicated upon a series of concepts which integrate music into activities of the society at large and which define and place it as a phenomenon of life among other phenomena. These are actually the concepts, which underlie the practice and performance of music – the production of music sound. They constitute the framework upon which music is ordered in the society and upon which people think about what music is and what it should be. Christian music is conceptualized and recognized as meaningful according to the message(s) it passes across to its hearers. In actual fact, the acceptance of Christian faith is held to imply belief in certain concepts such as the trinity, resurrection, efficacy of prayers, godliness, heaven and hell, etc. All these are required to be expressed fully in Christian music. Although, secular (non-Christian) music sometimes also relies on these concepts as compositional sources, it lacks depth and inspiration. These concepts are usually pseudo-conceptualized in the secular music and most often, wrongly expressed.
It is the subject matter of something. The content of Christian music must be spiritual. All praises, prayers, petitions, pleas, worship etc, that are rendered in Christian music should be from the spirit to God (Phil. 3:3). Content is an important factor for determining the sacred or sacrilege status of a phenomenon – music inclusive.
This is the general condition in which an action takes place. In this regard, Christian music should be an action or re-action of Christians toward the propagation of the gospel of Christ – irrespective of where the music is played – within or outside the Christendom. For instance, the Yoruba Bata music wherever it is played is synonym to the context of ‘Sangoism’ (Sangoism here means the religion practiced by the devotees of Sango the god of thunder among the Yoruba) while Ipese music is always associated with the context of Orunmila religion (the religion in honour of ‘Ifa’ (oracle) the god of wisdom among the Yoruba). This is just to show that music is an integrated art, which does not exist as an abstraction outside its culturally deep-rooted context. That is one of the reasons why music generally connotes different meaning to different peoples and cultures of the world. Though some principles such as rythms, tonality, dynamics and timbre are found to be common to music-making throughout the universe, the intent of music-making which constitutes the understanding of what people regard as music differs from one context to another.
From the foregoing, the position of this paper is that a human behaviour should be able to exhibit or be characterized by such qualities as expressed above to be called Christian music. Any music, be it liturgical or non-liturgical, church or gospel, that fails to reflect all or some of the above precepts is not qualified to be called Christian music.
Christian Music as a Discipline:
Christian music has its genesis in Judaic traditions. The record of music-making by man in the Bible started with Jubal one of the descendants of Cain who was accredited as the father of all those who played musical instruments (Genesis 4: 17-21). Incidentally, that was the first place in the Bible where the mention of music making as a human behaviour was made. Also, David (1 Chronicles 15: 17-22) was credited as the originator of liturgical Christian music who instituted an orchestra with three leaders: Herman, Asaph and Ethan/Jeduthun who were all Levites. These pioneers founded schools of music/performance. They played and gave instructions on how to play musical instruments. They were also good singers. Chenaniah was one of their students. He was a very skillful singer. Because of his skill, he was appointed the chief of the Levites for song. From that time of David, Christian music has become a thing of skill and spirit. These pioneers began to teach their own children how to make music with musical instruments and voice as recorded in the Bible thus:
“all these were under the hands of their fathers for the music in the
House of the Lord, with cymbals, psalteries and harps for the service
of the house of God “(1 Chronicles 25:6).
The total number of trainees who were instructed in songs and instruments and who were skillful in their specialized areas was two hundred and eighty-eight (1 Chronicle 25:7). These people were not only sensitive to the Holy Spirit they had musical ability. The two actually require information and inspiration. Therefore David’s musicians were instructed in the Lord’s music (Christian music) in two ways: first, in their work on instruments and voice; and second, in the waiting on the Spirit of God. In 2nd Chronicles 20: 1-30, Jehosaphat the king grafted into the worship leadership Levites that were not only professionals but who were obviously in good relationship with God.
From the foregoing, it becomes evident that Christian music involves practical training. That is what a ‘discipline’ is all about. It is a branch of learning under qualified tutors in recognized institute/school. It is interesting to note at this juncture that, some music schools and departments of music in institutions of learning (both private and public), in order to make Christian music more professional have incorporated Christian music as an area of specialization in their programmes. This in a way is an improvement on the Bible records about training in Christian music. This leads this discourse into addressing some other pertinent issues like:
(i) professionalism in Christian music
(ii) Christian music professionals and
(iii) Christian musicians
Professionalism in Christian music:
Professionalism in music means when one in deciding to choose music as a profession, tries to meet all the requirements of the profession (Lo-Bamijoko 1986[iv]). Like any other music, professionalism in Christian music, first and foremost requires talent and aptitude. Talent steers interest while aptitude develops skills. But beyond these – and that is where professionalism in Christian music differs from other music types – spiritual anointing of the Holy Ghost is required. It is said in the scriptures that “be not drunk with wine, but be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing and making melody in your heart…” (Eph. 5:18-19 – simplified) If these requirements are compared with what obtains now in Christian music of today, one would begin to understand the problems of the profession better.
Christian Music Professionals:
Of course, following the background already highlighted above, a Christian music professional would include one who meets the requirements for professionalism in Christina music as well as uses the results of the training in making not only material gains but most importantly in contributing towards the development and growth of his profession. It is a pity to note today that many of the self-acclaimed professionals in Christian music are mere traders of talents for material gains. Christian music professionals are therefore those who are talented, who acquired musical training and are guided by the dictates of the Spirit of the Lord in their entire endeavour. The rest should be known by what they do: Christian music talents, traders, hawkers etc.
The case of the so called or self acclaimed Christian music professionals in Nigeria today is pathetic. Most of them are best described as entertainers and not ministers of God in music that they are supposed to be. They sing, they shout, they dance, they thrill etc., but at the end of the whole show, people go home well entertained but without any message for victorious Christian living. This trend has, not in a small way, negatively affected upon Christendom and the society at large. In the past, it was secular music that was focused as an instrument by which moral decadence were injected into the society. It is sad to note today that the devil is gradually subjugating Christian music through the unregenerated, unserious and purposeless Christian music professionals in Nigeria.
It is a difficult task to really define who a Christian musician is or should be, but one thing is pertinent, that is, he must be a Christian. In addition to being a Christian, he must posses some qualities as related to musiucians generally and specifically has accreditation in the Christian music profession. Just as it is true that a laboratory assistant is not medical doctor, or a technician an engineer; it is equally true that not all Christian music talents are Christian musician, neither is a Christian music trader nor a Christian music hawker a Christian musician. In actual fact, one of the major problems of Christian music in Nigeria today is that the profession is full of people who claim to be professionals or musicians who cannot articulate the problems of the profession. These characters most often dabbled into Christian music because they know that with the teaming population of Christians in this country they can easily make their ‘cool’ money even if it is at the expense of their hearers.
It is important to state here that it is high time for those who are interested in Christian music as a profession not only to go to study music even if it is at the rudimentary level only, but also to align their characters and behaviours with the word of God. This would not only make them versed in the art but also make their messages more meaningful to those who hear them. This will go a long way to reduce the number of mushroom artistes all in the name of Christian music in this country. There is now, ever than before, the need for national base Christian music without which Christian musicians will be nothing but downcast imitators of foreign artistes and their music. What hope do such artistes have of making renowned impact in nation building with their music?
Discipline in relation to Behaviours and Manners of Christian Musicians:
At this point, it is expedient to ask how much discipline does exist in Christian music today. This leads us into another facet of discipline as a training of the mind and body to produce obedience and self-control. Indiscipline in Christian music is a big task to be tackled by Christian organizations throughout the world today. Many so-called Christian musicians now-a-days make foul of the messages in their music by both their being inexperienced and debauchery. For instance, some Christian musicians are not disciplined in their physical appearance and this has become an abuse to the ethics of the faith they propagate. As much as we are not setting any new standard of physical appearance different from that of the Bible, Christian musicians should endeavour to make modesty their watchword.
Some are again, undisciplined in terms of the caliber of people they walk and work with. This normally leads to bad peering and tantamount to unequal yoke with the unbelievers. In the country recently, there was a so-called ‘Christian musician’ who peered with one ‘Fuji’ artistes to wax an album called ‘Omo Olope’ all in the name of evolving a unique musical style. This work has generated a lot of controversy among Nigerian Christians most especially the ‘born again’ who believed that the musician has contravened the ethics and precepts of Christian music. In history, the issue has become an event, in ethnomusicology it has opened up a vista, but in the Christendom it a disobedience to the Biblical injunctions, a betrayal of faith and indiscipline. To be discipline in Christian music is to make the discipline a morally and Bible based.
Laziness is another factor of indicipline noticed in Christian music today. Majority of Christian musicians today are copycats. The Nigerian music and entertainment industry, just like in other developed and developing countries throughout the world, is built on the existing copyright law and environment. This law is usually disregarded either in spite of it or because of the ignorance of the musicians who ignored it. This caliber of musicians relies on other people’s work to parodize and imitate. They are very good at adapting the styles and lyrics of secular and oftentimes corrupt musicians. That is why most of their works lack originality. It is to be noted here that nothing is wrong for a musician to have somebody as a role model whose music the musician cherishes and whose style he adopts. But it is also to be noted that creativity as the sole of good art work allows for innovation, self-discovery and self-reliance. No part of the scripture supports the common practice of someone coming up overnight with just any song or music under the pretext of presenting or producing Christian music, adopting, adapting and ‘stealing’ others musical styles and compositions. This is to say in essence that, apart from being unprofessional, plagiarism and piracy in music, like in other works of art, are ‘anathema’ to God-man relationship. The only antidote to the factor of laziness in Christian music is for Christian musicians to take the business more serious and tap their resources from the Bible.
Christian music as a discipline has its root in the Bible. Bible musicians were trained and skillful. The likes of Heman, Asaph and Ethan were all products of David’s school of orchestra music. Chenaniah was appointed the chief of Levites for song because he has the skill. These people were not only musically skillful, they were also spiritually competent. Christian music, though a spiritual assignment, requires training and skill for creativity and general musicianship. This emphasizes the need for Christian music education in all its ramifications through any available avenue. The major problem of development and growth in Christian music in Nigeria has been that of the difficulty of trained manpower in applying knowledge to practice. This problem continues to hinder progress and promote mediocrity in Christian music as a discipline.
On the other hand, the wave of indiscipline in Christian music today is an indication of the dearth of professionalism in the art. Many of its practitioners have lost control over their minds and bodies. This has started to show in the ways and manners Christian musicians go about their job. Excesses in characters and behaviours of some of the practitioners are signs of indiscipline that should not only be discouraged but also be curbed to make Christian music a worthwhile discipline. The ‘messengers’ and their messages should align with the word of God.
Finally, it is expedient to desire in our Christian music of today, the lovely balance in David’s ministry of both musically skilled and spiritually anointed. That would make the discipline a respected and honourable one.
[i] Echeruo, Michael J.C. (1977),p.70
[ii] Wilson-Dickson, Andrew (1997)
[iii] Adedeji, Femi (2001)
[iv] Lo-Bamijoko, J.N. (1986) p.5
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