Music, Memory, and the Heart of a Child

The Gospel Coalition | 7/18/2018 | Staff
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At a recent family gathering my siblings and I were reminiscing about the songs we sang and loved in the ’80s. My 74-year-old father chimed in, singing a song we’d never before heard. His mother had taught it to him as a child. The song was Charles A. Miles’s “Wide, Wide as the Ocean,” written in 1914:

Wide, wide as the ocean, high as the heaven above;

Deep - Sea - Savior - Love

Deep, deep as the deepest sea is my Savior’s love.

I, though so unworthy, still am a child of his care;

Word - Love

For his Word teaches me that his love reaches me everywhere.

More than 60 years later, he still knew the song by heart.

Memory - Children - Ministry - Church - Kids

I think about this memory often as I lead singing for the children’s ministry at our church. We gather all our kids ages 3 to 11 to sing Scripture songs, worship songs, and, more recently, the songs from The New City Catechism. I’m convinced that memorized truths can be building blocks for lives of Christian obedience. This memory-heart-life connection is everywhere around us.

Take memorizing poetry, for example. Poet Brad Leithauser speaks to a different sort of knowing that comes through memorization:

Argument - Memorization - Knowledge - Variety - Poem

The best argument for verse memorization may be that it provides us with knowledge of a qualitatively and physiologically different variety: you take the poem inside you, into your brain chemistry if not your blood, and you know it at a deeper, bodily level than if you simply read it off a screen.

Or take jazz as another example. Improvisation is intrinsic to the genre of jazz music. If you give an untrained musician a saxophone and ask him to improvise, the results will be ear-splitting. Rather than requiring mere spontaneity, jazz improvisation comes from years of honing a craft and storing up physiological memory. Only after years of training and amassing a repertoire of songs—building...
(Excerpt) Read more at: The Gospel Coalition
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