Music, they say, is the universal language. Unfortunately, it is only such in a very limited sense. Rhythmic patterns, scales, vocal production, what is considered desirable and beautiful, and instrumentation all vary widely from culture to culture.

Music transcends words. It is a language in its own right, but, more than that, an expression of emotion, the unique expression of a specific people. In a sense, music is the fleshing out of our innermost cries and longings. God is the inventor of music (see Job 38:7) and when we make music, we express our likeness to Him.

When I first came to Indian Bible College, 25 years ago in November, I came as resident musician. Since then much has changed both with me personally and at IBC. In the early days I remember struggling year after year to help students grasp Western (as in Western Europe) rhythms by keeping a steady beat and observing measures. But I can’t think of a single instance where I was ultimately successful if a student didn’t arrive without some innate “feel” for Western rhythms already in place. When I first started teaching voice, I would ask a student which “voice” they had in mind to learn, Native or European? They are quite different from one another and I was not (and still am not) capable of teaching Native vocal production.

Times have changed dramatically. Current IBC students are no longer caught between two cultures, unable to express themselves in either their own culture of origination or the dominant Western culture. I have students this semester who can “speak” Native music and  contemporary Christian equally well. It is hard to say which is their “heart” music. Most, if not all, of my music students have been exposed to their traditional music but have also grown up listening to contemporary pop music of the good ‘ole U.S.A.

Jesus sang (Matt. 26:30). I imagine a rich baritone voice, quavering with emotion as He prepared for the cross. We don’t know if the angels actually sang at His birth or if they merely spoke, but certainly their exuberant praise has often been put to music. The exaltation of Mary, the mother of Jesus, has likewise been the subject of innumerable songs. Is it significant that such a large portion of the Bible is song (primarily the Book of Psalms)?

What a blessing it is to be able to sing in our own musical “language,” that is, using music with which we can identify, that makes sense to our intellect and emotions. As you enjoy the music of this season, don’t forget to thank God for the gift of music in a comprehensible form that adequately expresses your deepest longings and emotions. Pray that God would mercifully allow His people in Native America to experience the joy of pouring out their hearts in a musical language that is emotionally comprehensible to them as well.

Thank you so much once again for being part of this musical adventure with me. Please enjoy the photos. May God bless your Christmas with meaningful music!


Martha R. Gushee