Music and Religion: Learning a New Language

“What language are we using in our discussions?” was the question raised in the very first class session of Music and Religion. Now that it comes to the last day of class, my semester long experience with this course has been indeed a learning process of a new language that connects me with a subject that I had never explored before.

Having little religious background, except for two semesters of required religion courses that I had very limited memory of, I have always been resistant to talk about religion because I don’t consider myself a qualified and appropriate member to enter such conversation. This class, however, fairly pushed me to engage in such public discussions by driving me to reconsider my position and approach in verbal and written communications specifically about music and religion. How to initiate a safe environment of discussion? What are the proper tactics to deliver an argument? How to construct a common ground for efficient dialogues when the audience is of different religious background and/or having different religious principles?

One thing that I found effective dealing with these challenging issues was to build the religious aspect of the conversation upon the musical language that becomes the foundation of our communication. Always relating theological statements back to their musical counterparts – the motives, the melodic contour, the harmonic progression, the rhythmic quality, the instrumentation, the voicing, the text setting, etc. – helps me to overcome the potential gaps that I have with the audience and encourage me to involve in rational, objective and academic dialogues about the subject.

I should admit that this class was not the most pleasing and self-assuring class that I have taken, for I had plenty of discouraged and depressed moments through the semester. However, after coping with all kinds of barriers to find myself a proper seat in the discussion about music and religion, I can say I have attained the language that enables me to no longer absent myself from a significant field of musicology.

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