Is music neutral? Let’s take a look at some interesting (and shocking) quotes from health care professionals and other well studied, trained and respected minds. These people are and were no amateurs…and certainly, no dummies.
Dr. Richard Pellegrino, neurologist ("What’s Behind the Subliminal Power of Music?" Billboard, Jan. 23, 1999: pp.4, 23):
“People really do get ‘hooked on a feeling.’
And what a powerful feeling it is: Music talks to us, and we talk back. The grimaces and contortions made by performers and listeners alike are direct responses to music that moves us, a way for the subconscious mind to respond to music's message. And, like spoken and written language, music can impart information. Extensive research has shown that exposure to certain kinds of music improves visual and spatial reasoning, memory, and learning…
Many songs that ring up large sales not only produce endorphin highs but relate so well to listeners' emotional lives that people create strong and long-lasting associations between those songs and other events and people in their lives. The songs become anchors. They trigger a flood of emotions and images: some from experience, some from daydreams. These images have the ability to instantaneously produce very powerful changes in emotional states...
Take it from a brain guy. In 20 years of research, I still cannot affect a person's state of mind the way that one single song can.”
Dr. Roger Scruton, research professor at the Institute for Psychological Sciences:
“'The ways of poetry and music are not changed anywhere without change in the most important laws of the city.' So wrote Plato in the Republic (4.424c). Music, for Plato, was not a neutral amusement. It could express and encourage virtue -- nobility, dignity, temperance, chastity. But it could also express and encourage vice -- sensuality, belligerence, indiscipline.”
Dr. Mathew H.M. Lee, director of Rusk Rehabilitation Institute at New York University Medical Center:
“We've seen confirmation of music benefits in helping to avoid serious complications during illness, enhancing patients' well-being and shortening hospital stays.”
Deforia Lane, musical therapist (“Music's Surprising Power to Heal,” Readers Digest, Aug. 1992)
“Of course, music is not a magic, but in a hospital or at home, for young people or older ones, it can be a potent medicine that helps us all"
Dr. Max Schoen, (The Psychology of Music):
“The medical, psychiatric and other evidence for the non-neutrality of music is so overwhelming that it frankly amazes me that anyone should seriously say otherwise.”
Dr. William Kilpatrick (Why Johnny Can't Tell Right From Wrong: And What We Can Do About It ):
“Would anyone assert that '(You Ain't Nothin' but a) Hound Dog' has the same 'soul' as Gregorian chant? The one inspires to prayer and contemplation, the other to shouting and stamping. Not that there’s anything wrong with shouting and stamping once in a while, but children these days tend to be raised almost exclusively on that sort of music. Besides, they don't need much incentive to shout, stamp, whine, and demand. They do these things naturally. Why should we want music that validates and confirms such juvenile states?”
Center for Hearing and Communication:
“Studies show that exposure to noise is associated with elevations in blood pressure.”
Plato (The Republic):
For the introduction of a new kind of music must be shunned as imperiling the whole state; since styles of music are never disturbed without affecting the most important political institutions.
"Through foolishness they deceived themselves into thinking that there was no right or wrong in music -- that it was to be judged good or bad by the pleasure it gave . . . a spirit of law-breaking." (Plato, Laws).
“Music directly represents the passions or states of the soul – gentleness, anger, courage, temperance... If one habitually listens to the kind of music that rouses ignoble passions, his whole character will be shaped to an ignoble form. In short, if one listens to the wrong kind of music he will become the wrong kind of person; but conversely, if he listens to the right kind of music, he will tend to become the right kind of person.”
What Professional Musicians Have Said:
Dame Gillian Weir, world-renowned organist (on the high number of beats per minute of much modern-day music):
“You are, in effect, hypnotised by this thing, and there is no question but that it produces addiction.”
Dmitri Tiomkin, famous for his motion-picture scores and dramatic ballads (ca. 1965):
“The fact that music can both excite and incite has been known from time immemorial...Now in our popular music, at least, we seem to be reverting to savagery...and youngsters who listen constantly to this sort of sound are thrust into turmoil. They are no longer relaxed, normal kids.”
6th Century musician Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius (De Institutione Musica):
“Music is part of us, and it either ennobles or degrades our behavior.”
60’s artist Frank Zappa (Life Magazine, June 28, 1968):
“The ways in which sound affects the human organism are myriad and subtle…The loud sounds and bright lights of today are tremendous indoctrination tools.”
Pop Superstar Billy Joel:
"Music is essentially the manipulation of sound ... It has the power to make people feel sacred. It also has the power to make people feel profane. You know all the things they were saying about Rock 'n Roll in the early days, saying 'It's gonna subvert our youth. It's gonna make 'em all wanna have sex. It's gonna make em all go crazy'? They were right."
Jimi Hendrix (LIFE MAGAZINE, October 3, 1969, p. 74):
“Atmospheres are going to come through music because music is in a spiritual thing of its own. It's like the waves of the ocean. You can't just cut out the perfect wave and take it home with you. It's constantly moving all the time. It is the biggest thing electrifying the earth. Music and motion are all part of the race of man… But I can explain everything better through music. You hypnotize people to where they go right back to their natural state which is pure positive—like in childhood when you got natural highs. And when you get poeple at their weakest point, you can preach into the subconscious what we want to say. That's why the name ‘electric church’ flashes in and out.”
In the light of such clear confirmation from the experts, and even from musicians themselves, it is indeed a wonder that some professing Christians continue insisting that music is a harmless, neutral medium. The Bible makes it clear it isn’t, health care professionals say it isn’t, musicians admit it isn’t. Why, then, are Christians the only ones playing dumb?
But I can just see professing believers willingly shutting their eyes and ears to the unmistakable evidence above, and instead all too happily pointing out the fact that I have only quoted one single verse of Scripture so far. “What do you mean ‘the Bible makes it clear’? I don’t agree with your interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:7-8. Do you have more Scripture to show me? If not, then you can’t prove that music is neutral.”
Admittedly, my natural response to such an argument would be a discouraged sigh of frustration, and a desire to not continue convincing said persons any longer. I’ve been through this before with many a professing Christian, unfortunately only to receive a similar irrational reaction. “Club frustration” sums it up. But for the sake of those sincere souls who are truly eager to learn more about this important issue—and who are not looking to simply justify their love of a certain lifestyle and genre of music—I will present next more scriptural support for the unique power and non-neutrality of music.