I honestly say that the reason that I am a future music educator/conductor is because of my deep faith in God and the influence He has had in my life, and my desire to share that experience/truth with others (full disclosure, I write from a conservative evangelical perspective, very different from the Lutheran tradition we have at St. Olaf, although we have much in common).
Without God, I see no purpose for the music we do and more broadly for the lives we live as human beings. I am uncomfortable with the notion that music is purely a human construct or an environmental evolutionary event, because I am well aware of the intense power of sacred music to move people emotionally and lift people up to experience a little taste of the Divine (in a manner that no purely humanistic/naturalistic invention can truly accomplish) in the midst of the evil and ugly world we live in. Music shapes us as individuals and religious people, showing us the best way to live and inspiring us to allow God to change our hearts and walk with Him, thus changing our lives for the better in the process.
I agree fully with St. Basil and Augustine who claimed that music has the power to bring the Divine down to Earth in ways beyond words (like Augustine explaining the Jubilee in Weiss-Taruskin 10), and as Basil puts it “while we were singing we should learn something useful… the teachings are in a certain way impressed more deeply on our minds” (Weiss-Taruskin 9) . As we sing, we learn more and more about God and His incredible love for us as expressed through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (who I don’t believe was just a great teacher, no musical tradition so beautiful could have developed from as C.S. Lewis would put it “a lunatic or a lier”). Music provides hope for the hopeless, healing for the broken-hearted, and a reminder of the amazing love that God has for us, and thus the love we should have for each other.
There’s a reason beyond the musical elements why I wept profusely every time I heard “It is Well With My Soul” paired with “Beautiful Savior” last year at Christmas Festival. It is Well was written after the lyricist Horatio Spafford (the tune was written by Philip Bliss) lost the majority of his family in a shipwreck (all four of his daughters died, but his wife survived), and the words he writes with such deep faith in the midst of unbelievable tragedy comfort me every time I hear them that “Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say. It is well with my soul”. Beautiful Savior reminds me of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and how awesome He is. Combining the loving tenderness shown in “It is Well” with the majesty of “Beautiful Savior”, I am reminded of God as a loving and majestic God at the same time, without needing to hear a sermon about it (as a potential future pastor, I love sermons. I think music does an even better job of conveying truth).
I fully understand the power music has in other faith traditions, and I acknowledge that the reasoning is probably very similar. But for me, my most meaningful moments as a musician have been in choir after we have sung a beautiful anthem to God when everyone is just silent and standing in awe of the aesthetic beauty that just occurred (I get the same feelings in orchestra, but text makes it even more powerful). For me, I just tasted the love of God on Earth, and that is why music is a universal part of worship because I believe others have tasted this as well whatever tradition they call their own.