Bryan Sebesta

Two Visions of Music, Battling

Ted Gioia, on music in heaven:

What’s that I hear? Are you laughing at me? Do you think that debates over the musical instruments of heaven are some kind of joke? In truth, these distinctions are more revealing than you probably realize.

Two different visions of music have battled with each other since the beginning of human culture. Some societies focus on rhythm and drumming. That’s because they want to nurture the power of ecstasy and trance. Other societies celebrate the well-tuned music of string instruments, which reach for a kind of Pythagorean perfection. The latter communities have different social priorities, seeking harmony and order in all spheres of public and private life.

This is hardly a speculative or metaphysical matter. Sure there’s plenty of theology at stake here, but the more immediate fact is that you can tell a lot about any society merely by considering its vision of how music is played in the hereafter.

So take your pick. You can embrace songs of intense, mind-altering drums beating out the beat and putting you into a kind of hypnotic state, or the serene tones of harps and lyres lulling you into a peaceful, orderly reverie. Either of those might be on our playlist in the next life.