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Theology in Music (Mike Reeves)

Yesterday I gathered my team for our final day together this academic year along with Mike Reeves.

We're keen to say Jesus is Lord of all of life so we dug into the subject: theology in music. The question really is, are we playing games in an atheist world, or is this actually the LORD's world?

Session 1 - 48mins
Session 2 - 68mins
Session 3 - 63mins

Some additional reading as recommended in these mp3s:
The prayers of John Bradford
Theology of Everything
The devil has no stories - Peter Leithart
Images of divine things - Jonathan Edwards
Brightest Heaven of invention: study of six Shakespeare plays - Peter Leithart


  1. Fantastic! Really looking forward to listening to this, cheers Dave.

  2. They'll give you food for thought if nothing else.

  3. Hey Bish, what was the last book Mike recommended? 'An evening...' or something?

  4. I think that'll be Braford's prayer...

  5. Halfway through the second mp3.

    Music = sound in time. Absolutely. Of course, sound itself is movement in time.

    So far, as I understand it, everything Mike has said is musically and theologically good. I think you could have done with a prepared pianist/prepared examples for the cadences/dissonances as we kept on hearing plagal cadences (IV-I, eg. F-C) which are weaker than perfect cadences (V-I, eg. G-C). V7-I (eg. G7-C) is a stronger example still, as it has the tritone (eg. b-f) resolved (to c-e). Will post more thoughts as they occur to me.

  6. On a team day you work with what you've got - I'm just glad we had someone as able as we did to work off the cuff... could easily have had no pianist in the room!

    Great though to have interaction from pro's like yourself - teach us more please!

  7. 30m 40s in second mp3, Mike makes a mistake. Going up in fifths gives you the twelve tones of the octave (approximately, anyway).

    A-E-B-F#-C#-G#-D#(Eb)-Bb-F-C-G-D-A (7 octaves higher)

    arranged in order:

    A-Bb-B-C-C#-D-Eb-E-F-F#-G-G# (twelve tones).

    If you do the maths, doubling the frequencies from the bottom A for each octave, and multiplying by 1.5 for each fifth

    Bottom A = 22.5Hz
    Top A (by octave=2x) = 2880Hz
    Top A (going through the fifths) = 2919Hz

    As you can see, they're slightly off, so we cheat and 'temper' the 5ths so they're ever so slightly flat. This is why a guitar can sound in tune for one song but out of tune for another (in a different key).

    What I think Mike means to say is that if Pythagoras keeps on plucking his strings with divisions of 1/3, 1/4, 1/5, you'll get the major scale (which is close to being true). The major scale is about the best approximation.

    The creation point is interesting. I get that the seventh note wants to resolve upwards, which makes a good point about the new creation, but it is also the least restful note of them all. How to link that with the Jewish sabbath is a difficulty.

    Although it got me thinking. The patterns of days 1-3 are copied in days 4-6. The patterns of the first three notes of the major scale are copied in the second three notes (eg. F-G-A is a transposition of C-D-E).

  8. You're going beyond my grade-1 music theory but I'm loving it.

  9. Session 3: major and minor...

    Mike's good on the difference in sound between major and minor, and the reason is that those divisions of 1/2, 1/3, 1/4, 1/5 etc. when plucking a string, give a roughly major scale (if your root note is the full length of the string.

    Minor scales use those same notes but change the root (to be the second, third or 6th note of the major scale).

    I'm not quite sure what Mike means when he's talking about sonic distance, and major and minor. There are more semitones in a major 3rd than a minor 3rd, but I'm not sure what that proves.

    I like Reeves' reading of Beethoven's 5th.

    This makes me think about Smetena's 'The Moldau'. It's a piece about a river and you hear the trickling water at the beginning which is repeated at the end. 10 seconds before the end, you think that the piece is essentially static as it ends just like it begins. Then Smetena whacked on an enormous V-I cadence which seems entirely out of place. It's a bit Deus Ex Machina, like a God who has been absent all the time jumps in at the last moment and ties things up. Rather deistic, and it's unsatisfying.


    I love the framework Reeves uses here. This is the Lord's world, and there are reasons why some pieces of music are more edifying than others. These are both physical (Pythagoras was right) and spiritual (God designed it that way). The good composers wrote music that told true stories (sometimes incomplete, mostly with wrong intentions).

    Areas for musicians to think about:

    12 (the number of tones) is also a significant Biblical number. Do their characters match up with the sons of Jacob (and his prophecies) in any interesting ways?

    How does world music relate to this? Western popular music is popular across the world, and world styles being mixed with diatonic (western) scales and common metre. Is this humanity growing up (in some ways) towards God's design?

    Mike's early question... why do I like this piece of music and what is it telling me about the world? There could be a lot of work done here, and we'd learn a lot.

    How do we do this and not be snobbish?

    Finally, the biggy. How should this be applied to worship music? If we picked the right 3 people, we could argue about this for years and never get anything done. How can we improve music, and create newer and better works for the future?

  10. I beg to differ on choice of cadence: thinking plagal is more appropriate, given it's the 'amen' cadence :)

  11. But the Amen sounds restful. It's at the end, after everything's been resolved. There is more tension-release in V-I.

  12. "How do we do this and not be snobbish?"

    This is a danger, the opposite danger is that we don't do it and we continue to surrender the world to the atheists and just keep playing our little game on the sidelines...

    We don't necessarily do it with music - though Paul you really should - but we do it with whatever we turn our hand to, whereever we are, whenever we can...

    Look the sun just came like a bridegroom out of his tent this morning...

  13. And I thought the piano playing was excellent, btw. Especially the riff from Titanic.

  14. Thanks SO much for posting these talks! Remembering this is the Lord's world makes everything so much more meaningful and significant, and I love the fact that we just can't escape the story God has written!

  15. I lead a music apprecation group named 'MyTunes'. Part of it is an attempt to understand how music connects with the sacred, the eternal and the kingdom of God. As an analyst working at Christian Research, we naturally want to explore this complex topic through new research.

  16. Hi Dave ... the audio links seem to have gone - any chance you'd know where they can be found now?


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