Echoing in Celebration: The Studying of Beauty and Harmony in Music


By Leigh Bortins


We no longer dare to believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order the more easily to dispose of it. Our situation today shows that beauty demands of itself as least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in a mysterious act of vengeance.

          The Glory of the Lord by Hans Urs von Balthasar

Quoted in Beauty for Truth’s Sake by Stratford Caldecott

Classical, Christian educators see the goals of education as a passionate pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty. Instruction in beauty must include instruction in music.

People in ancient times had a very different understanding of music than we do today. Music had a vital role in a classical education. In fact, the ancients regarded the study of music as a study of numbers. They divided education into seven liberal arts and subdivided them into three language arts—the Trivium—and four arts of number—the Quadrivium. The Trivium trained students in the arts of Grammar, Dialectic and Rhetoric, while the Quadrivium trained them in Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy, and Harmony (music).

The ancients included music with the arts of number because they focused musical study on harmony. The Pythagoreans and later students studied the ratios between notes that were played together to form chords. Even more foreign to our modern minds is the fact that the ancients linked music to the virtues. In fact, Plato argued in The Republic that music is critical to the development of a rightly ordered, harmonious soul:   

And therefore, I said, Glaucon, musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful, or of him who is ill-educated ungraceful: and also because he who has received this true education of the inner being will most shrewdly perceive omissions or faults in art and nature, and with a true taste, while he praises and rejoices over and        receives into his soul the good, and becomes noble and good, he will justify blame and hate the bad, now in the days of his youth, even before he will recognize and salute the friend with whom his education has made him long familiar.

This passage might seem like a stretch for our modern society since we no longer think about imparting graces to our children through education. Even as Christians, we have forgotten the idea of education as a way of instilling virtue in our children. We should be more concerned than the ancient Greeks were with training up children who “praise,” “rejoice over,” and “receive into their souls the good” and “hate the bad” so that they can become noble and good. We should teach them to love the things that are worth loving.

In Scripture, it is clear that God desires beauty in music and worship. The Psalms were set to music in order to give glory to the Lord. David played the harp to soothe Saul’s troubled soul. Scripture teaches us that music should be an important part of our children’s education.

I can imagine that you are already asking many questions about music education. How can I incorporate music education into an already packed schedule? How can I teach a subject about which I know so little? Will my kids even like classical music?

Over the past twenty-five years that I have been home educating, I have learned that young children are usually more receptive to new or foreign ideas than are older children or adults. When your children are small, train them to sit still and listen to music. I like Classical Music for Dummies because it is truly written for people like me who had very little music training. The CD includes music from all of the major periods of music—Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Modern. The text contains a listening guide that provides a written commentary on each section of the music. It will tell you the exact minute and second that a new strain of instruments begins to play and will help you recognize transitions in the music from one theme to the next.

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