Swing Lo, but Don’t Swing Too Hard

I dig jazz. Heavily. I am also an Adventist. Heavily. These seemingly innocuous facts have proven to be much more controversial and apparently salvation-endangering than one would think. For instance, my love for jazz and the resulting strife has caused me to ponder the religious politics of music. When I was a kid, I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t allowed to listen to jazz on the Sabbath. “It’s secular,” was the usual sentiment.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11887

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!


Wonderful!! Thank you!

In a church that historically has over regulated everything, this is just one more example. And, this is over regulation that as the article points out is based on cultural bias and prejudice. The musical culprit that I always heard accused was syncopation. Anything with syncopation was evil. Only white, European classical music was not. Voila!

A well known, hyper conservative evangelist many years ago came to our church with his violinist wife, and lectured on the evils of popular music and its infiltration into the church. It was a very impressionable time in my experience.The target that day? Syncopation. If the music makes you feel like you want to move, it’s exciting the lower, animal tendencies…bad! The real back breaker for me was when I ran by them if they felt it was ok to play something like Granados’ Spanish Dance #5 in worship service, a transcription I played and play on classical guitar. His wife deemed the rhythmic figure and melodic content too syncopated. This is European classical music. Even some of that was non-kosher according to their exalted scruples.

It was then that I knew that they were totally off the wall. Even having to talk about this subject in the way that it is often approached in Adventism borders on bizarre.



Don’t you you think there is a time to say the heck with the church’s and some personal scruples? There is so much to be gained by the enjoyment of jazz and there is so much in the jazz catalog to be explored in the setting of church that it is worth it to take the plunge. And it could be a good exercise of Christian forbearance for some who still are not tolerant of the music to be tolerant of the musician. It may be effective for the church’s university conservatories to take the lead. Perhaps they already are.

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Thank you for this refreshing article! The Adventist church seems to prefer conformity rather than creativity, and especially so in music. I am a piano/keyboard player and have played with church praise music groups for 20 years, although I am usually much older than the other group members! Our group found that the best way to get the audience participating was to play and sing old Adventist hymns in a blusey style! I also played with a local community college jazz band (25 players) for a dozen years, the series unfortunately ended by Covid. It is so satisfying to play with a group like that with all the instruments blending together to create a great sound. Thank you too for your selections to listen to. I have a suggestion for you as well: look for an album by Gene Harris called “Its the Real Soul” and play the cut “Summertime.” I never tire of listening to the tremendous dynamics of this performance. Unfortunately, Gene is no longer with us.


It’s been difficult to qualify certain music as “secular” vs “sacred”, especially music without lyrics - which is why in the 70’s certain people focused on rhythm or syncopation or “get up and move” music (imagine Heavenly Music which makes you sit down and fall asleep…). Once the words are added - smack! if it isn’t specifically about Jesus, it’s secular. About nature? No. About relationships? No. It is very hard in our busy world to pull up the drawbridge and cloister ourselves away from what some may call secular, whether in music, the wording of our prayers/chat with the Higher Power, the clothes we wear, the coloring books our kids can use ( oh wait; I have a Sistine Chapel coloring book, but those figures are naked - secular!). Maybe the definitions of Sacred and Profane (the scripture’s word) need to be updated by you linguists out there…

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Uh oh. Now you’ve gone past the event horizon. :slight_smile:

There’s also:
Let Israel praise His name with the dance - with the timbrel and the harp let them sing praises to Him. For Yahweh takes pleasure in His people - He will beautify the humble with salvation. - Psalms 149.

I was taught as a kid that dancing was wrong because it would excite the glands and lead to sex. But then there’s this instruction from God, just after creating humans:

And God said to them, be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.

So, then assuming the cultural norm of being fruitful with one’s spouse, shouldn’t we feel compelled to dance with our spouses in order to comply with biblical instruction, since we know doing so will lead us to “be fruitful and multiply”? It seems seems clear to me!

Regarding music:
When I was growing up, “rock music” was the target of the grey-hairs, and they let us know on a regular basis that rock bands were in league with the devil. Some artists had even sold their souls to the devil in exchange for fame. They were quite sure of these facts (it turns out without a shred of evidence to back them up.)

Of particular offense were the songs Sympathy for the Devil, Hotel California, Bohemia Rhapsody, Hare Krishna, and any other songs about the devil.

Whilst teaching us all about the devil in great detail in bible class, the grey-hairs were sure that if we listened to a song about the Devil, then it would be all over. Our souls would be lost and we’d sink into some sort of state of debasement and promptly be on the road to hell.

So, now I listen to all these songs all the time as much as possible. They’re great songs! I’m still waiting to be taken over by the devil, but so far nothing has happened. Does anyone know how long it takes?


The coexistence of diverse Adventist musical styles is increasingly challenging, given the multiculturalism of the membership, especially if we keep in mind that 44.3% of the members are in Africa, and 28.7% in Latin America. US members only make up 5.8% of the world’s 21 million Adventists. In the North American Division the GDP per capita is US$65,000, and Adventists are 3.4 per 1,000 inhabitants. So we must welcome the African musicality of the Ugandan brothers, who move us with the hymn TUKUTENDEREZA YESU “We praise you Jesus” performed by Jehova Shalom a Capella, six-member Gospel adventist Vocal band, which includes beat boxing (Asaph). TUKUTENDEREZA YESU (Official Video) | Jehovah Shalom Acapella - YouTube. They were winners of East Africa’s Got Talent 2019, and they have a great religious musical production. In Uganda, a country with just $900 GDP per capita, there are 9.9 Adventists per 1,000 people. Also from Africa, they have their own praise style The Golden Vocals, choral ensemble of the Bluffhill Seventh-Day Adventist Church of Zimbabwe. GOLDEN VOCALS - ATAFULE (Official Video) - YouTube . In this country the Adventist presence is one of the highest in the world, with 1 million Adventists (66 c/1,000 inhabitants), and its GDP per capita is very low at US$1,300.
From Mexico, maestro Arnel Pierre Timé (Haitian) surprises us with his original jazz piano arrangements This Is My Father’s World, This Is My Father's World - Arnel Pierre Timé - YouTube, and vocal creations such as the anthem “Lamb of God” Cordero de Dios - #VoxLaude - YouTube . There are also the Adventist mariachis with their traditional style Mariachi Misioneros Del Rey\\Si fui motivo// - YouTube . In Mexico the GDP per capita is US$8,400, and there are 6.2 Adventists/1000 inhabitants. From the Peruvian highlands, at an altitude of 3,700 meters (12,500 feet), our Quechua brothers praise with their rhythms, cadences on guitar, mandolin, charango, quenas, panpipes and their ethnic costumes, the anthem “Every eye will see Him.” Conjunto Revelación (Todo Ojo le Vera) - YouTube by Adventist Revelation Ensemble. In Peru the GPD per capita is U$6,000, and there are 12.6 Adventists/1000 inhabitants. And from Chile, the maestro Juan R. Salazar, with the anthem “And when You come back” creates musicality to honor the memory of those who have already left; each singer is linked to a recently deceased loved one, whose image is displayed on the TV cabinet. Y cuando vuelvas - Vocal BCM - YouTube. In Chile the GDP per capita is US$13,300, and there are 5.5 Adventists/1000 inhabitants. In this way, the breadth of styles, cadences and harmonizations that praise the Lord are eloquent testimony to the biblical principle of contextualizing the mission in Jesus, to every nation, tribe, language and people, as 1Corinthians 9:19-23 teaches us.


Is it a challenge or an opportunity?


I too heard it preached and taught the nonsense that syncopation was evil.

I agree that this is a product of the desire to regulate all human activity. For some SDAs (and not just limited to SDAs) there is a “correct” way of doing everything. A “correct” way to eat; a “correct” way to sing; a “correct” way to dress; a “correct” way to kneel, a “correct” way to speak; a “correct” way to celebrate Christmas, and all contrary opinions are evil, sinful and daemonic. For all I know there is a “correct” way to sneeze. (Now that I think about it, I remember a busybody from years past take offense at the perfunctory meaningless “bless you” uttered after a sneeze - to her this innocuous cultural custom fell somewhere between daemonic and taking the Lord’s name in vain).

However, one of the few advantages of a community so obsessed with such irrelevant minutae was that back in my days as a sabbath school teacher I could always revive a moribund class discussion by mentioning music, dress or sabbath observance. There were no shortage of strong opinions about what sort of music other people should enjoy, what sort of dress other people should don, and what sort of sabbath activities other people ought to perform. Heated arguments would ensue and I could stand back and run out the clock without having to deal with the lesson that the class evidently found uninteresting.


Don’t forget the correct things to eat and drink, the correct pagan-named day of the week on the pagan Roman calendar to label the Sabbath, the correct schools to attend, the correct jobs to have, and the correct people to associate with.


Why is it a challenge? It seems it is only a challenge for those who think their was is the correct way and it should be forced on others - and for those others. Otherwise, we can all be happy and do our own thing.

Of course, there is Ted - at the top of the church structure - who doesn’t seem to understand the difference between unity and uniformity. One wonders if his minions do? That lack of good leadership may encourage the black and white thinking.

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…desire to regulate…seeing that in current society where politics is being used to control what children are/not taught in schools. We thought it was bad growing up in SDA schools, but now it is permeating to public schools. When Elvis came on the scene he was loudly condemned for his gyrations and the music condemned as evil by all conservative peoples. So…I don’t see the issue as an SDA one but rather one being brought about then and now, through conservative religious thought. The desire to control is very strong and the best way to achieve that is through division or as the old saying goes…divide and conquer!

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When I was growing up (it’s been awhile), the Today Show with Dave Garroway and Barbara Walters as hosts spliced into the morning line-up through the hour several breaks with a jazz trio or quartet. It was before remotes, so one of us kids was ordered to “turn it down” until the jazz was over. Sad what we missed.

All music for amateur hours and talent shows had to be auditioned, especially to root out the “too jazzy” possibilities for academy Saturday nights.

As an adult and professional musician most of my life, when I attended an FCC Conference in Washington, D.C., for my profession, Dave Brubeck and his jazz group were performing a jazz mass at the Washington Cathedral, which was recorded live for CD. It was amazing and had been commissioned. My jazz-loving partner was delighted.

Most recently I’ve learned new jazz to play at church, where the congregation loves it. “There’s nothing wrong with tapping one’s toes,” a retired minister told me after church last time I played jazz. “We are too straight-laced,” he continued, “if we can’t do that.”

My grandfather inlaw, a former college music professor at 3 Adventist universities before he died, would have walked out upon hearing Brubeck or my jazz prelude and offertory. Now, however we have jazz group concerts in Adventist music departments, Dixie jazzland groups, and Sabbath Schools and churches that offer praise genre music. Take Six, Grammy award-winning group, has been a leader in our society, and now many more groups, with top-quality jazz and many other genres represented by our increasingly diverse cultures. Incidentally, Mark Kibble, Take Six’s talented arranger, is joining the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University as faculty this fall. What a rich education he will be able to provide with his creativity and experience.

We’ve come a long way. Many communities encourage a variety and diversity of music. Sadly, some Adventist communities are still judgmental about music. Hopefully, since we are the most diverse Protestant denomination on the globe, we will be a leader in cultural acceptance and worship styles. May the Spirit guide us to an open spirit of praise.

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I hate jazz.


I hate Adventism.


I love rock.

Heavy and heavily.

I love secularism.

Heartily and find it heavenly.

If EGW, SDA’s and Jesus would see me in hell because I’m moved by tunes with a beat and some lyrics they find offensive, they can keep heaven to themselves.

As Billy Joel sang, “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.”


I just grew up with he Classics : Beethoven, Mozart, Mahler, Brahms - -oh yes , Bach !! And in College we got free tickets to “Wiener Musikverein” - - As a youth I enjoyed Bach and Schubert and Bruckner on the SDA organ, also together with choir and soloists and orchestra - - that “once upon a time”. (I beg conservative SDAs applause !!!)

And in December 1964 a youth program for our SDA Sabbath afternoon meetings came from the Division : for discussion and the given ( ! ) outcome that Jazz is the devils because of stimulating sensual /sexual / erotic “feelings”. - I with two long statements protested instantly, angrily - -

But kids who were not able to notice the difference between “major” and “minor” in approving this nodded - - - -and two never came again ( - " - such a nonsense !!!") - - I then have asked around : “What other style also ? " . And one young woman named some piano concert of Tchaikowski, the other Vivaldis” Four Seasons" , then some SDA hymns were named, then some sports, some actions - - (oh yes, decades later the Vivaldigirls sons told me about their mother day after day having the Vivaldi - LP on the turntable !)

Decades later I was in the situation of working with a group of teachers in experiments : Let them draw under the influence of certain pieces and styles of music. - -Well to say it :The utmosst clear sexual connotation was given wiht Pachelbels (1653 --1708 ) wellknown Canon !

At that time I bougt a new SONY tape recorder. A tape of John Coctrane was on it - - Well,until now I have the whole Coltrane Collection on CD. And I admire the “original” Reggae sound of “On the Rivers of Babylon”; I have a Missa Cameroun and Psalmodiae Bassae (from somea RCC Mission Project). (Oh yes, and a collection of Jazz on Bach !)

And sometimes I see a deficite in my life : I never could PLAY Jazz ! ( Not enough vitality not lively enough and not enough phantasy !) - But at almost every SDA Communion Sevice in my church I have the dream of the last praise song being accompanied by the full possibility of a drummers device !!


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