Music’s Moral Power: From Christianity to 2020 and Beyond

By David Eaton

In a recent conversation with Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon regarding the creation of new Holy Songs and whether we should compose “new songs in the old tradition,” she mentioned she enjoyed Italian classical music because of its Christian heritage.

In another conversation with her, I inquired about including more popular styles in our request for new songs for the ongoing Holy Song competitions. She cited the need for songs younger Unificationists could identify with, and as such, there should be a willingness to be open to all musical genres.

As we move toward 2020 and beyond, Mother Moon is emphasizing mentoring the next generations of musicians with regard to having a principled view of their creative gifts.

Her comment about the Christian heritage of music reminded me of Arnold Toynbee’s observation that the Christian church was the “chrysalis” out of which our Western society emerged, “the germ of creative power.” As Christianity in Europe emerged from its chrysalis, a substantial body of liturgical music was created as an expression of the faith.

Gregorian Chant and the early settings of the Catholic mass by Renaissance composers Jacob Obrecht and Josquin des Prez, and eventually Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, and Schubert, as well as the sacred motets by Léonin and Pérotin in 13th century France and cantatas and oratorios of Bach and Handel, point to the importance of music in the evolution of Christian ritual and worship. Well-known hymns such as How Great Thou Art, Praise to the Lord, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, and Be Thou My Vision remain staples for many church choirs and congregations.

Initially having a timorous distrust about music being performed in the church, St. Augustine eventually came to view music as having benefits in the process of developing a devotional frame of mind toward the Almighty, thus aiding one’s spiritual growth. Augustine’s epiphany concerning music as a facilitator of spiritual enlightenment was  a precursor to Emmanuel Kant’s assertion that beauty was the archetype of revelation due to its transcendent potentialities.

Divine Principle and Unification Thought teach that when assessing art according to the Platonic ideal of beauty, truth and goodness, we should not overlook the axiological perspective: specifically values vis-à-vis morality and ethics when creating art. The concept of the moral power of the arts has been a narrative in virtually every culture and will remain so as we advance beyond 2020 into the age of “settlement.”

The Chinese, Greeks and Hebrews of ancient Israel shared an understanding that music had moral power and thus musicians had a certain moral responsibility in the communities in which they lived and worked. Their attitudes about music and musicians comport with the concept of Godism as articulated by the FFWPU founders.

Confucius readily linked the moral condition of a society to the quality of its music. The Greeks intuited that people’s attitudes were influenced by the music they listened to and the recreations they engaged in. The influence of the Greeks on early Christian culture and its art and music is easy to trace. Echoing the ideas of Plato and the relationship between music and society, the 6th century Christian philosopher Boethius stated in his influential treatise, De institutione musica, that “music is related to us by nature, and that it can ennoble or debase our character.”

Martin Luther considered music to be “a sermon in sound.” Johann Sebastian Bach, the greatest composer of liturgical music, asserted that the musical technique known as figured bass was the most efficacious way to “praise and glorify God” and to “recreate” one’s mind and soul. Johannes Brahms, a good Lutheran, read scripture on a daily basis and considered his relationship with God to be essential in order “to compose something that will uplift and benefit humanity — something of permanent value.” Schiller, Goethe and Kant considered aesthetic beauty to be a gateway to moral and ethical insight due to its transcendental aspects. For these European philosophers, art wasn’t merely entertainment but could also be a repository of moral knowledge.

Friedrich Schiller, who as a young man possessed a desire to study theology and pursue a life as a cleric, believed that one’s soul state (Seelenzustand) was edified through experiencing beauty. For Schiller, “aesthetic education” could be the basis for a moral society that would help establish the freedom that political revolution failed to achieve. Kant, who was greatly influenced by Schiller’s ideas about “aesthetic education,” understood that the pleasure we derive from beauty was beyond pure reason, yet those experiences were valid and universal — everyone had them.

In his observations of Schiller’s influence on Kant with regard to the nexus of aesthetics and morality, Roger Kimball, publisher of The New Criterion, writes:

The feeling of freedom and wholeness that aesthetic experience imparts is thus not merely private but reminds us of our vocation as moral beings. In this context, Kant famously spoke of beauty as being “the symbol of morality” because in aesthetic pleasure “the mind is made conscious of a certain ennoblement and elevation…a faculty for judging the sensible illustration of moral ideas.”

We understand that love is realized though action. How we act and relate to our family and fellow citizens becomes the essential trial in our attempts to establish a more humane culture. Our behavior, and that which we create, has consequences. Artists do not create in a vacuum. In short, that’s what being a “community” is all about. Being responsible for our actions in relationship to our fellow travelers in our earthly journey ought to be our primary consideration. In that context, creating art that fosters goodness in the spirit of Godism remains a significant factor.

Another fundamental narrative in Unification Thought and the Theory of Art is that an “artist should have the attitude of wanting to comfort God, who has been grieving with sorrow throughout human history.” The concept of the “suffering heart of God” and humankind’s attempt to alleviate that suffering has been a prevailing tenet of Unificationism. As theologian Ronald Goetz points out, “The age-old dogma that God is impassible and immutable, incapable of suffering, is for many no longer tenable. The ancient Theopaschite heresy that God suffers has, in fact, become the new orthodoxy.” From the Unificationist perspective, artists ought to be aware of this reality as they go about their work.

The author conducting the Hyo Jeong Youth Orchestra.

Divine Principle instructs that God created human beings and the universe to obtain joy and therefore endowed human beings with the gift of creativity. True Mother is emphasizing the creation of a culture that embodies Godism — a way of living that comports with the Three Blessings as the foundational modality for artists, scientists, educators, journalists, economists, environmentalists, and politicians. Her support of the Hyo Jeong Youth Orchestra (founded in 2018) and the new cultural academy, concert hall and recording studio being built on the Cheongpyeong campus testifies to her commitment to the centrality of art in the settlement era of heaven’s providence.

These projects will emphasize character education as well as musical development in the spirit of creating a Godly culture. True Mother’s emphasis on attaining and practicing family values as articulated in Divine Principle and Unification Thought remains a central concern. Her instruction to artists has been to understand that before we are artists we are children of our Heavenly Parent and parents to our children. With this fundamental consideration we can then practice our art in the spirit of Godism.

Furthermore, we will likely see more cross-cultural artistic expressions as we move beyond 2020. In 1983, at the Sixth World Media Conference in Cartagena, Colombia, Rev. Sun Myung Moon instructed several musicians (I among them) to study and master the classical tradition and then “combine the Abel-type aspects of other traditions — rock, jazz, folk — with the classical tradition.” In his estimation this juxtaposition of genres would be “new age music.”

Taking his cue, I have created music that merges Asian and Western styles, classical and hip-hop styles and Western classical and Middle Eastern styles. I’ve also created music that attempts to synthesize classical ballet and martial arts utilizing Western and Asian musical modalities.

In the current providence in the United States, it’s interesting to witness how American Gospel music has taken centerstage at the various “Peace Starts With Me” events with the emphasis on creating God-centered families. Moreover, young people have been attracted to the “praise-and-worship” music of Christian ministries such as Hillsong, Mosaic and The Rock. Citing the importance of music in his book, The Purpose Driven Church, pastor Rick Warren states that if he could go back and do one thing differently when he launched his Saddleback ministry he would have started by creating a first-class music ministry.

In the context of community worship, it will be important to educate young Unificationist musicians according to a principled view of worship music, no matter the style or genre. In the three Hyo Jeong Holy Song competitions that have taken place since 2017, nearly all 330 submissions have been in popular styles — rock, rap, praise-and-worship, Gospel, folk — but with lyrics that express the ideals of Unificationism.

Many artists are idealists at heart and wish to use their talent for a “higher purpose.” Any attempt to determine just what the highest purpose in life might be requires that we be open to the idea of a higher authority. If there exists a chief author and propagator of truth that exists beyond the earthly realm (“beyond the starry canopy” as Schiller and Beethoven put it), we would do well to seek out and know that deity. Knowing the causal dimension of life and creativity can then be a way to achieve the true essence of ourselves as children of our Heavenly Parent and principled artists. Moreover, if artists can come to know the heart of the Creator they will be better suited to create art and music that embodies the attributes that our Heavenly Parent finds appealing — and good.

Musicologist Richard Taruskin notes: “As long as some music somewhere is considered tref [not kosher], we have not forgotten that music is a powerful form of persuasion that does work in the world, as serious art that possesses ethical force and exacts ethical responsibilities.”

As co-creators with our Heavenly Parent in creating an ideal culture it is our portion of responsibility to use our talents and abilities to assist in that process. Regardless of the style or genre of music it is the motivation and intent behind our creative endeavors that ought to be central to the creative process. As such, the moral and ethical power of music will remain an important consideration in the age of settlement.♦

For more information about the award-winning songs of the CIG Holy Song contests visit www.hyojeongculture.org or email: cigholysongcompetition@gmail.com.

David Eaton has been Music Director of the New York City Symphony since 1985. In addition to his conducting career, he has been an active composer, arranger and producer with 64 original compositions and over 800 arrangements and transcriptions to his credit. One of his recent compositions, “70 and Counting!” was performed at the United Nations as part of its 70th Anniversary concert in 2015. Another recent composition, “Sing Praise, Halleluia!” was recently performed in Korea. In 2016, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by UTS.

7 thoughts on “Music’s Moral Power: From Christianity to 2020 and Beyond

  1. Since we don’t know what the spiritual environment is going to be in the landmark year 2020 and afterwards, it might be a bit premature to speculate on what holy songs might best fit those times. One can discuss relative styles to fit certain ages, but no one has ever seen a new world ripe in the birth throes of Cheong Il Guk. To what extent will personal responsibility be empowered or will CIG be more of an “old school” experience? If new music is to accompany this new, as yet unseen age, then you may want to wait a bit before assigning it a unique religious soundtrack.

  2. Not being an artist, musical or otherwise, I do appreciate what I call the confluence of artistic expression. An example would be Yo-Yo Ma partnering with other musical genres and the mixing of old and new. I listen to classical music over the Internet and I do think this has mental and physical health benefits. Thanks for being a good and visible role model, David.

  3. In his fine article, David Eaton reports True Mother favoring a certain genre of music owing not to elements or styles intrinsic to the music but to its association with something she highly values.

    On the question of the effect of music on its hearers, here is my understanding based on Unification Thought. A work of art is ordered, whereas the psyche of its appreciator is not. Through the exchange of elements during the giving and receiving process, the appreciator’s psyche becomes temporarily ordered, which is pleasurable. It is through this process, then, that the moral value of a work of music becomes established, depending upon the content of the ordered piece. For example, if the ordered piece expresses sensuousness, the hearer experiences sensuousness. The moral value of that experience, will, of course, depend upon the immediate circumstances of the hearer.

    Let me note an important effect of music at a turning point in my life. In 1948, I entered the small officially Baptist-related, more Methodist-populated Bucknell College in Central Pennsylvania, as an agnostic Jew prejudiced against the Christian religion (“It’s bourgeois and conformist”). However, I had heard and loved Christian music, as follows. American slave songs beloved by my atheist mother, sung by the great artists Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson (respectively, a Christian and a Stalinist) were often played on 78 rpm records on the wind-up phonograph in our home. Christmas carols (real ones, not songs about winter) were heard ubiquitously in the streets of Greenwich Village and sung at an annual Christmas season gathering of my parents’ close friends (with me at the piano).

    During my final semester at a private high school on the edge of Harlem, a chorus teacher was brought in from The Riverside Church. We learned two Lutheran chorales. Now, while at least a couple of the slave songs and Christmas carol tunes were very beautiful, as were the two chorales, the words most strongly affected me. I had been an avid reader of Greek, Nordic, and Indian mythologies (even plowing through the entirety of the Mahabharata, with its unsavory antihero). The following chorale words still haunt me: “No mortal ear hath heard, no mortal eye hath seen such wondrous things”; “Word of God our flesh that fashioned with the fire of love impassioned, Thou dost ever seek thine own, soaring, sighing round thy throne”.

    At Bucknell, attendance at worship services in the campus’ church building was voluntary. I went regularly only because of my love of Christian music. My being there repeatedly exposed me to words of Jesus and to come to unquestionably exalt them. This was the beginning of my becoming a fully devout modern-minded Christian having let Jesus into my heart and grateful for his atoning sacrifice. That led to a two-decades part-time career as, variously, organist, choirmaster, music director, liturgist in Christian (and Jewish) congregations.

  4. Particularly appreciating David Eaton’s sharing of conversations with True Mother on songwriting and music in general. Music carries truth but more on a spiritual and emotional level. Religious outreach can be more effective if it becomes less scriptural in its approach and more of other expressions of truth like music, various expressions of arts and even social and civic engagement.

    I’ll never forget when one of our guests, a teacher from Costa Rica, exclaimed after a short video presentation of Andrew Riue’s “Nearer My God to Thee” — goose bumps — this was a holy moment! Similar reactions by others during a sermon after playing the Resurrexit from Berlioz’s “Mass Solenelle” expressing the glory of God.

    To reach the heart and connecting it to God — music is essential. Relationships based on a heart connection can grow. Here in Charlotte some of us regularly visit the monthly Gallery Crawl to be inspired by various styles of arts in multiple galleries. Art often carries Spirit as many artists work hard to express impressions that moved them to incredible efforts of expression. Yes, of course many of them may be considered “free spirits” — but others openly express more spiritual and religious motives.

    Many of them need spiritual guidance — especially in terms of God-concepts. It is there that important seeds can be planted for their benefit and the expansion of God’s sphere. Divine Principles can provide such guidance and inspiration abundantly.

  5. So nice to see the focus and respect for the musical arts increasing in our movement! Thanks for all you do!

    On another matter, why haven’t you discussed the re-writing of the musical score for the Cheon IL Guk anthem? Currently, we are still using the melody from one of our most sacred holy songs — “New Song of Inspiration.” In our NJ community, “New Song of Inspiration” has not been sung since its melody was taken over by the CIG anthem. With all the talent you and other musicians have, isn’t it possible to write a great new melody for the CIG anthem rather than continuing to use the melody of “New Song of Inspiration?”

  6. Some responses to commenters:

    — Steve Henkin: Obviously, history is not static and the providence unfolds in ways that are often unexpected. We are now hearing songs with narratives that are new and reflect current providential realities. Ten years from now songwriters might be writing about circumstances that we cannot imagine now. The “canonization” of new songs as “Holy Songs” is a long-term procedure and we are still discussing this matter in our committee. Nothing is set in stone.

    — John Sonneborn: With regard to the sensuous aspects of music, I’m reminded of St. Augustine’s famous admission in his Confessions when he wrote: “Thus vacillate I between dangerous pleasure and tried soundness; being inclined rather to approve of the use of singing in the church, that so by delights the ear the weaker minds may be stimulated to a devotional frame. Yet when it happens to me to be more moved by the singing than by what is sung, I confess myself to have sinned criminally, and then would rather not have heard the singing.” Sensuality itself is not really the problem, but rather how we deal with it.

    — Rob Sayre: Yes, many artists are “crossing over” into genres that reflect the trend toward multiculturalism. Exploring the music of “the other” can be a away to further better understandings of cultures that we otherwise might not be exposed to. Dr. Leonard B. Meyer in his book Music, Arts and Ideas (1967), predicted that there would be this type musical interfacing with the advance of globalism and technology. Regrettably, there are some who consider this type of musical juxtaposition to be a mode of “cultural appropriation.”

    — Klaus Schick: Music can be transcendent and as Kant noted, beauty — more than theology — could be the archetype of revelation. The “ordering” aspects of music (whether pitches, chords, key centers, or rhythms) is something we are attracted to as Dr. Sonneborn points out.

    — Brian Sabourin: Interestingly, just yesterday our HJ Holy Song committee discussed the very issue you mentioned regarding “The New Song of Inspiration.” We are looking at various options that we want to report to “upper management.” In 2016 I composed (and recorded a demo) of a new song using the exact rhythms of “The New Song of Inspiration” with idea that it might be considered a substitute.

  7. I think we may be able to get some clues from Father’s early holy songs, especially during the first church period in Busan, South Korea. At the first A-type church built of paper and dirt, Father wrote several lyrics of holy songs, one of which was to describe what he felt at that time of dreaming of a grand future, as sung in holy song #4, “Force Surrounded by Darkness.” He was all alone. But he also sang of all the hopes to come soon as shown in a vision, in the holy songs of “Garden of Restoration” and “Grace of the Holy Garden,” in such a miserable situation. We, the followers and children, can be comforted while singing those songs because we are in a much better situation than Father at that time, even in a “luxurious” situation,” as said by Rev. Lee Kisung, president of FFWPU-Korea.

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