Posted by: Billy Marsh | July 8, 2008

Do You Listen To Music?

Well, we’re back. And it’s good to be home. Even as I say it’s good to be “home”, I seem to remain confused as to just exactly where that is, espcecially since I’ve been telling everyone in Fort Worth that Kim and I were going “home” to visit our families these past two and half weeks. Is it possible to have more than one home without betraying the real sense of belonging and ownership to each respective place? I think so, but that’s a topic for another post.

Since we are still recovering from our trip home and relentless drive back Sunday, don’t expect too much depth to this post. However, as I was scooting across the never-ending state of Tennessee Sunday morning, some thoughts crossed my mind with respect to music and how to listen to it. Mainly, what I began contemplating was why do I only have really one other friend who shares the same love for music that I do. And what separates guys like us from those who are content with the top 40 (not meant to be a degrading statement if you fall into that category. To each his own, at least in this case). Why is it that one of the things I get most excited about a road trip is completely erasing my iPod, starting from scratch and filling it with a fresh new bundle of music to wade through on the long journey?

What sparked this little intropsection in my head somewhere between Knoxville and Nashville (ironically while on my way to “Music City”) was reflecting on my attempts, not just this time, to introduce new music including artists and genres to differing family members. But these aren’t experiences limited to trips back to the Carolinas. I have had the same encounter with friends, close friends, who when I slip on a song or a band that they’ve never heard before begin to crinkle their noses after the first five seconds. In addition, what I’ve noticed that has proved to be very interesting is something that I have even observed in Kim (who by the way is not a music lover beyond the top 40, but is lovingly tolerant of my passion, so she is a valid candidate for this case study).

I could play a cycle of standard radio material music in the car everytime we drive somewhere and she would never notice who the band is, what the song is, or what the lyrics are saying, but as soon as I play something out of the ordinary or a little original, she immediately picks up on it and begins to question me in the following manner, “What/who is this?” Then, this is what follows next. I tell her what/who it is and where I found it, and then I smoothly try and turn up the volume so that she can hear it better. Now she is forced to engage the song. Because of her interest and question, she can no longer sit in the passenger seat with the music disconnected somewhere in the background. She actually has to listen to the music. Shortly thereafter, this becomes a tiresome task and I am kindly persuaded to turn the music back down. However, to be fair to Kim, after riding in the passenger seat of the car with me for about 5 years now, she has embraced some of my attempts to broaden her musical horizons, though she will admittedly and unashamedly tell you that she could drive down the road in silence in contentment on any given day.

But in case you didn’t catch it, here’s where I believe the dividing line lies. Engaging the music. For many people, music is an endless soundtrack to life. You find something to fill up the background of a scene of your life that fits the setting and the action whether it be “Sweet Home Alabama” when you’re driving down a southern country road after dark with the windows down, the car packed full of people, and the crickets competing with the volume on the stereo, or a good James Taylor song when you’re lonely and it’s raining outside and everybody you tried to call won’t answer their phone. I’m not knocking this purpose. Both of these examples are some that I’ve tested out numerous times. However, how do you explain–and Kim would like to know also–how I’m able to turn on a Fernando Ortega album, which is some of the softest and quietest music out there, at 5 o’clock in the morning with it pitch black outside, with her sleeping in next seat over, and never even come close to falling asleep at the wheel?

Engaging the music. At least that’s what I’ve come to conclude as to how I go about doing it. Why doesn’t slow and soft music put me to sleep when I’m dog-tired and how I can listen to a thirty minute jam session without getting bored? You have to want to be involved with what is playing and more interested in that than the atmosphere it provides per se. Thus, when I say I like listening to music, that is exactly what I mean. I listen to it. I don’t just hear it beneath the noise. When I play a song or an album, I do so with the intent of listening to what it has to offer all the way from the message of the lyrics to the background vocals. I want to hear how a song begins and what new creative ways producers and songwriters have figured out how to end a song. For example, the friend I mentioned earlier, Keith Krepcho, played me a song one time just to let me hear the faint piano in the background. I loved it, and now I own it. My old roommate Eric Beecher was that way too. I remember many nights traveling somehwere with no talking, arms hanging out the windows, listening to music that our other friends just could not appreciate.

One of the ways to determine on which end of the spectrum you are in terms of what kind of listener you are of music is whether or not you want to know who produced the album. Usually, when someone cares where an album was produced and who produced it tells the onlooker that this person is in search of a certain sound, style, or approach that will inform the entire record-making process. But, that isn’t a rule of course, however it is a helpful hint.

This goes, of course, for more than just music. Let’s take the public reading of Scripture for instance since it is a topic that I’ve written on recently. I’ve heard from several people in different churches that they become disconnected from the service when long passages of Scripture are read aloud. During his series on Ecclesiastes, my pastor has been reading the entire chapter from which his sermon text is derived each Sunday morning before he begins the message. I love it. Now, I haven’t heard anyone complain about this particular example, but if they did, my first question to them would be, “Are you really listening to what is being read?” “Are you engaging the Word of God, striving to see what the text says and what God is communicating to his people?” If so, in my opinion, how can you not be captivated by the entire chapter, especially before a sermon? Yes it’s hardwork. But like I’ve noted before, as best said by John Piper in one of his famous quotes, “If you rake, you get leaves, if you dig, you find gold.”

So, with these words in mind on engaging music and not just hearing it, here is some of the fruit from my effort to “listen” to the music I brought with me on this trip to the Carolinas.

Redemption Songs ~ Jars of Clay

Redemption Songs ~ Jars of Clay

Jars of Clay/Redemption Songs

My new favorite song right now is their version of a hymn entitled, “Thou Lovely Source of True Delight“. I’ve never heard or seen this song anywhere before. I bought this album when it first came out, but ending up paying it little attention due to the overwhelming amount of “hymns” records that the industry unloaded onto the shelves of Christian bookstores all at once. However, I gave it another chance for this trip and it is actually an incredible album. But, this song, which is second to last caught my attention. See if you can follow the journey the lyrics take you through and how Jars of Clay interprets it through the musical underpinning that accompanies the words. I love the drums in this track too, they come in at perfect timing.

To the Foundation ~ Christafari

To the Foundation ~ Christafari

Christafari/To the Foundation

This is another album I bought that faded quickly into the background. Yet I moved it onto my iPod for this trip since we were going to the beach. But, oddly enough, I ending up listening to it in the mountains instead of by the ocean. The record has a great sound and collection of songs which build upon the theme of the title track, which I believe is probably the best song on the set list. The group’s ability to interchange lead vocals with a lot of diversity in song arrangements has given me a renewed respect for Christian reggae.

**You can hear both of these songs in my media player in the sidebar along with some others from these two albums.



  1. Yet another reader coming over from Challies. ;-)

    Cool post. I’m probably as tuned into lyrics as you are to instrumentation. I remember when Rich Mullins’ “Never Picture Perfect” came out, I noticed that the trilogy of songs, “Bound To Come Some Trouble / The Love Of God / My One Thing” — which are musically seamless anyway — do a nice job of summing up the Christian’s life. (I later discovered that the entire 2nd side — this was in the days of cassettes — did an even more complete job.)

    I pointed this out to a friend, and she and I sat and listened to 10+ minutes of music without saying a word. 99 out of 100 people, when you say, “Oh you’ve gotta hear this song”, listen for about 60 seconds, then say, “That’s nice, now where was I?”

  2. yeah, also from challies. we all love that a la carte thing.

    anyway – YES! i’m so glad there are still people who like to listen to music, rather than need background noise.

    i too let Redemption Songs fade far back on my playlist. i’ll have to give it another go.

  3. Great post on listening, Billy. I share your pain/pleasure, and always want to know who produced a song and who played on it.

    I love Redemption Songs, and will have to check out Christafari…

  4. Brendt,
    You’re right about the 60 second thing. That’s what I’m getting at. I love Rich Mullins too, and like you noted, he is hard to beat on lyrics and communicating the deep truths of the Christian life through music.

    Carissa and Jeri, thanks for stopping by. Though Redemption Songs is probably the product of the industry putting out a hymns record for one of its top bands, now that I’ve gone back and listened to it again, it really has a lot of potential. I hope you can rediscover it as I have.

    And now that I think about it, it is kind of ironic that I have highlighted an album called “Redemption Songs” alongside a reggae album that comes in the same vein as Bob Marley’s song of the same name.

    Thanks to Challies for the link. I appreciate your labor for Christ in the blogging world.

  5. Do you remember when I was asking you about the praise and worship album? I was actually meaning the Jars of Clay album you have listed and not DC Talk! Haha! I guess your post is right about me! :)

  6. cool, don’t you have a Christian jam session too? I love music too!

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