This is the story of two 9-year-old boys. They never met each other. In fact, they lived centuries apart. But they both had several things in common with the main thing in common was their love of music. They were both composers and performers. They both lost their parents when they were 9-years-old (one of them to death and the other to divorce) — they both retreated into their music, but they found something profoundly different in their retreats.
These things I remember,as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.
MUSIC AND THE SOUL
(Johann) Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was a German composer. He is now widely regarded as the greatest composer of all time. In 1694, at the age of 9 his parents died within months of each other. Sebastian, being the youngest of eight children, went to live with his eldest brother, Christoph, who was the organist at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Ohrdruf (central Germany). His late father, Ambrosius, was the director of the town’s musicians who had taught Sebastian to play the violin and basic music theory. All of his siblings, cousins, and each of his uncles were professional musicians. During the time that he lived with his brother his grief was somewhat consoled by being surrounded by his extended family and their music. It was Christoph who taught him how to compose music and play the clavichord-organ. He also introduced Sebastian to the compositions of the great German composers. And all the while that Sebastian was learning his craft as a musician he was also studying theology, Greek and Latin, at his local Academy (‘Gymnasium’). This became the other consoling factor for the young Sebastian as his processed his grief for his late parents. His biblical view of the world helped him to find meaning in the midst of the pain he encountered at losing his parents at such a young age. He became acquainted with the God of the Bible who Himself entered into our world of pain and suffering and experienced it. In fact, Sebastian wrote two compositions about it (the St Matthew Passion and the Mass in B minor).
The music of J.S. Bach pioneered a genre of music, known as Tonal music, that would last for the next four centuries. It was built around the concept of four progressive chords each comprised of four notes. Bach wrote much of his tonal music also as a four-part harmony. This gave his music an orderliness about it that has a certain mathematical beauty to it, and hasn’t gone unnoticed that it also reflects the God who has given the universe exquisite order. Music certainly engaged J.Sebastian Bach’s heart and mind and based on what he wrote and they way his amazing life panned out, it had also filled his soul.
¶ I will sing of steadfast love and justice;
to You, O LORD, I will make music.
Kurt Cobain was a lead singer of the band Nirvana. Some of the music videos have had over a billion views. While the loss of his parents and his pursuit of music was common to him and J.S. Bach, their lives could not have been more different. After Cobain’s parents divorced, Kurt found temporary solace in music. But whereas Bach drew near to God after the loss of his parents, Cobain let his pain trick him into thinking there was no God and therefore that life was meaningless. Cobain’s music was atonal (the opposite of Bach’s tonal music, known as Grunge). His lyrics became increasingly dark and his soul became increasingly empty. Like Bach, Cobain also experienced physical pain and discomfort. But unlike Bach who experienced his discomfort in his 60s, Cobain’s stomach problems began in his 20s. Bach threw himself into his music to rework and even finish some of his compositions. Cobain increasingly despised music. Cobain’s final days saw his wife, Courtney Love, insisting that he check himself into a drug rehabilitation centre for his heroine addiction. What followed marked the final days of Cobain. He left a suicide note expressing his deep inner struggles and expressing his love for Courtney and their daughter, Frances. He was just 27 when he had bought a shot gun and turned it on himself.
Cobain lived his life without God. His music was grungy and disordered which was also how he saw life and the world he lived in. While he had millions of adoring fans, he ended up despising his life and saw life itself as pointless. In one sense it is easy to see why Cobain saw life as pointless because, if there is no God, as Cobain reasoned, then life can only be meaningless. His end was sad, unnecessary and tragic. One of the reasons that it was sad was not just the regrettable loss of a great musical talent, but also sad because Kurt did not have a follower of Christ in his inner circle of relationships who could have shared with him the gospel hope of knowing God in Christ.
And this is eternal life, that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.
Cobain’s music of despair reflected the condition of his soul. Bach’s Overtures reflected his peace with God and his Biblical worldview that helped him to process the pain of his loss, and set his life priorities in order. Bach’s final days were sadly hastened by a quack eye-surgeon who allegedly offered to cure Bach’s blindness with his surgical skills. Bach died shortly after this surgery and due to it. He left behind a wealth of musical compositions (over 1100), a few musical instruments, his wife Magdalena, and ten children.
Through the way where hope is guiding,
Hark, what peaceful music rings;
Where the flock, in Thee confiding,
Drink of joy from deathless springs.
Theirs is beauty’s fairest pleasure;
Theirs is wisdom’s holiest treasure.
Thou dost ever lead Thine own
In the love of joys unknown
“Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” (Jesus bleibet meine Freude) J.S. Bach
WHY GOD HAS DESIGNED HUMANS TO ENGAGE THEIR HEARTS, MINDS, AND SOULS IN MUSIC
God has made humans to engage their hearts, minds, and souls with music. Bach discovered this; but, Cobain did not. It is why music has played a central role in Christianity — in its discipleship of believers, and in its facility to bring God’s people together in worship each Lord’s Day. Musical songs teach biblical truth and theologically educate believers about the God. Sacred music stirs and lifts the soul and not just for the fleeting moment, but in a way that actually nourishes the soul by filling it with a lingering sense of God’s presence. This is why bring, joyful, upbeat Christian worship songs are so important for the discipleship and sustenance of the believer. As a preacher I am deeply appreciative of the complementary role that our musical worship plays in promoting the truth of God’s Word, and I hope you are too.
But now bring me a musician.” And when the musician played, the hand of the LORD came upon him.
Second Kings 3:15
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