Music has always equaled worship to me, even when I didn’t know it.
I spent Sundays in the 70s listening to what I call “Catholic folk music,” led by a former priest and his wife with an accompanying guitar and tambourine. Sing to the mountains!
I spent teenage years bouncing between two genres. I’d belt out country, my grandmother and great aunt’s radio favorite, in the back of one of their cars. They loved Randy Travis and they thought Alan Jackson had it going on. They adored the Statler Brothers, and I still do (to my knowledge, I have the only Spotify Statler public playlist, not to brag). But not Willie. I had to sneak-listen to Willie. They were not fans. It was the nasal whine and the ponytail, I think.
When I wasn’t in their cars, I was into a shockingly bad mix of pop-rock, from Barry Manilow (BARRY!), The Doors and Steve Miller, depressing death and spunky tunes, alternating on my various mix tapes. With the exception of Barry, it was not typically geriatric fare, so I kept those tapes for swim meet trips.
The American popular song occupied my 20s. Michael Feinstein sang the hits of Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and the Gershwin Brothers. My law school friends just smiled, assuming I had a secret opioid addiction I obtained from hanging at the Algonquin with literary types of days gone by.
And now, in my late 40s, I harken back to all, with the addition of Christian Rock, a bit of a staple these days.
I just made a Spotify list for my church’s Kenya missions team, which ranges in age from 18 to, well, north of 18. Suffice it to say that both Karen Carpenter and David Guetta (who?) grace this playlist. We are on the top of the world and it’s all titanium, apparently.
You do worship, to some degree, through what you listen to. My Doors days were formative, but not particularly happy, and I was worshiping things and success, not a God who loves me. Barry helped me turn on the Happy even when it wasn’t real. Not a bad thing, but it had its limits. The Statlers, all originally gospel singers, give you a great worship experience with the combination of four, faithful voices that I think will never be equaled, but also silliness when you need it. Cole Porter and the Gershwins simplify your life by (not accurately) portraying the presumed ease of generations past.
And old Catholic music, bad though much of it is, takes me to happy memories of my mother, arriving at Mass to see if we were singing our favorites (her’s, Lord of the Dance and mine, Lord of Glory — it had a banjo!)
Use your music well. It can take you to good places and dark places. Today, I’m reveling of the diversity in my Kenya team’s playlist, recognizing the distinctness of the team members and their many individual gifts.
Use your music well because it will come out of you. We are all just beggars who give alms.