Music is the narration of my life. I can think of an applicable lyric fragment to nearly any situation, and certain songs still have a visceral effect on me, as they evoke strong feelings from past events.
Music has a way of touching us deeply like no other expression. Music imprints itself upon our consciousness. How many of us used a song to memorize otherwise useless information, like the periodic table (no, I never did actually memorize that)? Really though, chances are much higher that you remember the lyrics to some song than a book you read or movie you saw. Soaring strings can lift your spirits and dissonance can make you feel uncomfortable.
Many years ago, I made the decision to listen primarily to Christian music. This wasn’t based on theology or conviction, but a simple observation. As I drove daily through Houston, I found myself much more tense when listening to the Top 40 station than when I listened to the Christian station. I really don’t care if it’s music or teaching, I just feel more peaceful when hearing the things of God.
However, my critical nature is difficult to keep in check. Some songs are on very shaky theological ground. Others are, as Twila Paris put it, “bubble-gum pop” with nothing of substance. Others are simply “7/11s”, with the same seven words repeated 11 times.
Since I am so hard on so many artists (and for the most part, this is an inner conversation that I don’t subject others to, except on occasion my wife), I thought it would be worthwhile to celebrate some of the truly excellent music that has touched me in recent years. From time to time I will write a blog like this where I highlight a song that is excellent in its composition, arrangement, performance, and theology.
First on my list is “Broken Together” by Casting Crowns. This song is rich in so many dimensions. The first time I heard it my heart was gripped by the gut-wrenching honesty and vulnerability of a man admitting his failure and renewed dedication to his wife.
Musically, the persistent, insistent repeated note in the left hand of the piano creates a tension which is reflected in the lyrics. As the emotion is poured out, the tension builds until finally resolving in the chorus when the words change gradually from pain to hope. This is a marvelous example of music that is perfectly suited to the lyrics.
Also, the simplicity of the arrangement places the emphasis squarely where it belongs, with the lyrics. The piano provides sufficient foundation with support from a lone cello at times, and understated strings in the chorus. As a side note, if the violin is the voice of the orchestra, the cello is the soul. The prominence of the cello in this piece is appropriate to its soulful subject matter. I love everything about this orchestration, as the different instruments blend flawlessly to carry us along on this difficult emotional ride.
Mark Hall’s performance is honest and unassuming. It doesn’t feel like he is performing, but rather that he is pouring out the hurt, fear, and hope in his heart. This vulnerability adds to the discomfort of being included in a conversation where we don’t belong, which in turn allows us to connect to our own failings.
There is no deep theology here, just common human experience. Too many people come into marriage with an idealized notion that their spouse will fulfill all their needs. Too many marriages devolve into separate lives lived under the same roof as that reality sinks in, and fulfillment is sought in other avenues (work, children, recreation).
The theological truth is this: I’m not perfect and neither are you. But if we come together to the God who is, he can give us the strength to bear with one another and be more together than we are separately. That is, when I stop trying to “fix” you and accept all of your strengths and weaknesses, and especially accept that God is working in your life to conform you to the image of Christ, just as he is in mine, and when I humbly confess to you my failings and imperfections and stop pretending like I am perfect and can do no wrong, THEN perhaps I can love you the way you need to be loved, and you can do the same for me. But none of this is possible apart from the power of God working in our lives.