'Classical Music is God's Gift to Us,' Christian Playwright Says

Jiang Yuanlai explained "Voltava River", a piece of sacred music, in a lecture entitled “Appreciation of Sacred Music“ on April 10, 2021.
Jiang Yuanlai explained "Voltava River", a piece of sacred music, in a lecture entitled “Appreciation of Sacred Music“ on April 10, 2021.
By Ruth Wang & Christine LauApril 19th, 2021

“European classical music is a gift from God. Nowadays, there are various types of music, but we still need to pay attention to the appreciation of classical music, and many classical works of classical music have expressed Christian faith, which can greatly nourish our minds,” said a renowned Christian playwright. 

Jiang Yuanlai, a folk playwright living in Shanghai, gave a lecture titled “Appreciation of Sacred Music – Let the Golden Hymn Accompany us in Passing through the Ups and Downs of the Pandemic More Calmly” on April 10.

To guide people who do not know how to appreciate classical music, Jiang shared his own experiences. He also played a number of classic works of classical music on the spot, including Maiden’s Prayer. 

At the beginning of the lecture, Jiang Yuanlai dispelled a myth about the appreciation of classical music that "classical music is high art and not everyone can understand it." In fact, this idea was wrong. In the days when classical music appeared and became popular, concerts were often held in the open air and enjoyed by many ordinary people. In Vienna, for example, classical music was widely accepted.

He concluded that the first step towards the appreciation of sacred music was to change our preconceived notions."

In fact, classical music can be appreciated by everyone," he added.

Jiang stated that there are many types of Christian music at the moment, among which the most familiar and popular were in four categories: music created by pastors, such as many psalms created by Martin Luther and Charlie Wesley in the past; hymns in the form of village minors, such as China's famous Christian songwriter Xiao Min’s familiar Canaan Selected Poems; urban pop music which is popular in recent decades, such as the popular Lily of the Field by Fankoucao; and western classical music.

He said that at present, the second and third types are more popular in Chinese churches, and many classical hymns created by pastors are also used during worship, but unfortunately, classical music is not paid much attention to.

"European classical music is a precious and valuable resource with the largest quantity, the most abundant themes, and the best quality. It’s like the earth’s richest mineral deposit," he said.

Jiang claimed that during the peak of classical music, dozens of outstanding composers emerged, many of whom were devout Christians, including Mendelssohn. He explained, "They perfectly incorporated their understanding of faith in their music. Among the many outstanding composers, the most outstanding six are Bach, Beethoven, Bruckner, Brahms, Mozart, and Mussorgsky."

These great composers produced a rich body of work that contains their understanding of faith and life, and their worship and praises to God. Jiang mentioned that Barth, the famous theologian of the 20th century, said that he was most grateful to Mozart’s music, which often gave him comfort, encouragement, and inspiration.

One of the most interesting things about Western culture was that they believed that words were often limited, so they preferred to use music to express and convey more information. 

“It (classical music) is something that every Christian should learn to appreciate”, Jiang said, adding that such music can nourish our souls when we are enjoying them.

The playwright shared four tips for the appreciation of sacred music, especially for new hands. 

1. People need to break out of their prejudices. We should know that God’s gifts to us are rich and varied, and learn to empty ourselves so that we can be opened.

2. “Don’t seek deep understanding.” Many people want to read many explanations in writing before they can understand such music and then begin to appreciate them. But in fact, we should first relax, and not look for too many explanations. We should just enjoy them.

3. Start slowly. We can start with a few minutes of music. We can also start with adagio, music that celebrates nature or ballet.

4. Find a composer that fits our personality. Some believers find it easy to start with Chopin, while others are fond of Beethoven.

Jiang Yuanlai converted to Christianity in the 1980s, then abandoned his previous professional achievements and embarked on a career in folk culture,  according to US-China Music Institute of the Bard College Conservatory of Music. Jiang began his drama writing from the end of 1990s and was recognized as one of the most important folk playwrights in the Chinese mainland by critics.

- Translated by Nicolas Cao 

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