A response to Christian Berdahl; #1 – Syncopation (Part One)

So, Theomusicologist, you want us to talk about Christian Berdahl. Who exactly is he? Click here.

Why are you ‘responding’ to him? Because we come from the same church, share a commitment to both music and ministry, and yet the current evidence suggests that  it is impossible that we could ever be partners in ministry.

So what? Paul and Barnabas parted company because Paul didn’t want to give John Mark a second chance. Who says everyone in the same faith has to always be best buddies? Good point – but here’s the difference: we have no reason to presume that John Mark’s theology was anything other than on point, or else Barnabas would not have been going out to do mission with him. This was about character, not doctrine!

My issue with Christian Berdahl is not even theological. It is his ideology, his pseudo-musicology and the way that this affects his theology which concern me. He seems a perfectly nice human being and I like to think that his Christian sincerity really is just that.

Oh come on! Give me a break! That’s not very nice, is it? What qualifies you to criticise him, anyway? Well, this is not about criticism for the sake of it, my friend. This is about truth. Truth matters – Berdahl himself would say that. And he believes that he is propagating truth. I am coming out publically and saying that while some of what he teaches is nothing but the truth, some of what he wants you to believe really is not the truth and therefore should not be believed at all. This is objective, and both ‘academic’ as well as ‘ministry-centered.’ If you’re going to ask me what qualifies me to talk about this, I can show you my resume  – or CV if that’s more familiar. But this is not about academic apropos – this is about me exercising my right as a member of that same church to raise some very serious questions about that intellectual integrity of his output. So if you want to hear my side of this, you need to keep reading! 

Okay, fine. So what’s the problem? Oh wait: you said three things…you and these long words. [sigh] Guess we’d best go one at a time. Why did you use the word ‘ideology?’ Well, let me ask you a question: how familiar are you with the actual meaning of this word? Well…I know the word, of course, and I’ve heard it used and read it and stuff, and I’m pretty sure I could use it in a sentence, but…not sure I could, like, actually define it… OK great, thanks for being honest. It doesn’t always happen and it just hacks me off when folk pretend so as not to lose face! I’ll gladly explain.

An ideology is a set of ideas that constitute one’s goals, expectations, and actions. So, it is basically a comprehensive vision, a way of looking at things (as in a worldview), or as in several philosophical tendencies, or a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to all members of this society (a “received consciousness” or product of socialization).

Ideologies are systems of abstract thought applied to public matters and thus make this concept central to politics, religion, constructions of social behaviour… STOP right there. OK! I’m pretty sure I’m following you. Now before I get confused, link this to what you’re saying about Christian Berdahl. Sorry, yes, I switched into lecture mode, my bad! So this makes me think that I had better break my response to him down into smaller and more manageable chunks…

What, you mean there really is going to be more than one post responding to his ideas? Absolutely! Is that really necessary? Well, he has twelve hours of teaching on five DVDs which appear to be selling like fresh-out-of-oven-baked-confectionery-of-whatever-description, so as I don’t yet have a media setup which allows me to do that, I am very happy to set down some shorter written responses. 

Okay, okay. So… I see. Syncopation – that’s what you want to start with? It sure is! Okay, I’m listening.

-

There are several things that Christian Berdahl has said that have impugned his academic integrity on the subject of music – and in the context of Christian worship. But syncopation has been a ‘hot’ topic in the ‘worship wars’ across the denominational spectrum for years – and in my church, it continues to be a subject about which those who know the least pontificate the most (this is not limited to music…)!

Check out this video:

If you begin to watch from about 6:40 or thereabouts, things are getting interesting, and by 7:12 he’s just about to launch into one of the most jaw-dropping statements I heard at any point in the last calendar year!

Yes, yes, fine. That’s the build-up, got that…now please get to the point!! Okay – here’s what he said:

“Syncopation…all occult experts around the world agree…syncopation is the source of all occult power in pagan worship services.” 

Really?? Interesting – that’s exactly what the interview said when he heard that, too! So, what are you saying exactly? You disagree?

“Disagree” is both the right word and the wrong word. That word puts us onto the threshing-ground of subjective opinion. There is nothing in what statement which leads the hearer to think that he is offering an ‘opinion.’ He is telling us exactly how it is, and he expects to be taken seriously! So you’re now saying that this is not true? Are you accusing him of telling lies? Oh man, why do some people always assume that if a person accuses another person of speaking something other than the truth, that they are therefore accusing them of lying? Because that’s the opposite of telling the truth, innit? Er…no. Not that simple. To tell a lie presupposes actual intent to deceive. To be genuinely misinformed and speak an untruth is not necessarily driven by an intent to deceive. These are the types of over-simplistic folly that make it much harder to be credible in conversation, whoever you are and whatever you believe! 

I understand. So you would have us believe that Christian Berdahl has made an untruthful statement in this regard, but that he has not necessarily set out to deceive anyone? Yes, from a ‘legal’ standpoint you have expressed this correctly. BUT – this particular statement worries me more than usual. Why? Well…it’s like this: was it necessary to try that hard to convince the interviewer that ALL of the occult experts around the entire world agree on this point? What kind of research project would it take to be able to make that statement truthfully? How much research has he actually done on the subject? And in how many languages? Over how many years is he talking? What’s his definition of ‘occult?’ That word is less straightforward than many Christians like to think…

And then, what exactly is syncopation? How does that work? And in the context of the ‘Jesus Loves Me’ example, are  his use of the words ‘beat’ and ‘accent’ even technically correct?

Whoa. Okay, you are not here to play fun and games, are you? Not for a microsecond. And I will tell you why. Seven years ago, I attended some seminars by a gentleman called Brian Neumann. He stood up, told us that he had “studied these things…he knew” and almost everyone took him seriously. I was a graduate student in the anthropology of music at that time and I went and spoke to him. It was not a good exchange. I soon discovered that he had no formal qualifications in musicology or theology. 

That was not and is not a big deal in itself. What was a big deal was that he made a number of point-blank erroneous statements. The kind which no self-respecting student would allow themselves to make when presenting their ‘research’ to an audience. I tried to explain this to a few people in my church, but no-one listened. 

Since then, Brian Neumann has had to resign his ministry due to personal indiscretions. But he had already impugned his integrity by publically making statements that were not the truth, and insisting that he had ‘studied.’ We all make mistakes. Large and small. But why try to make out that you have studied more than you have?

Okay. Are you saying that you think that Christian Berdahl is doing the same kind of thing? Hole-in-one. I’m not  equating him to Brian Neumann, who is still a child of God and who I am told is on his way back spiritually (Praise God!), but I am saying that this is the same sort of vibe. Berdahl is a media professional with a gift for music who appears to have overstepped the bounds of his technical knowledge and now wants to propagate ideas which will not bear scrutiny. This time, I’m not going to let the ignorance and myopia of my church members get in the way of me making a public stand against these wrong ideas. But I can see that we had better halt this conversation and pick it up next time. How does that sound?

That sounds good. Okay, until next time. God bless! God bless you too!

About these ads

31 comments on “A response to Christian Berdahl; #1 – Syncopation (Part One)

  1. abeccai says:

    Alex, please hurry, I won’t be able to deal well any delay with of the entrees. This series of articles promises to be fascinating.

  2. burk says:

    hmm..interesting piece…Where is your scientific or whatever to refute berdahls “claim”? sorry but it seems all you have here is opinion rather than fact.

  3. Thank you for your blog about this. As a member of your denomination, I have heard all these accusations about syncopation my entire life and I am so over it, but recently someone told me to watch Berdahl’s youtubes. I honestly cannot stomach to watch all of them because he seems ignorant and cocky. I felt like blogging about it would be a waste of time as most of my friends are wise beyond this but it appears he is creating a following. Your discussion is extremely polite and I can tell you are a true Theomusicologist and servant of God. I look forward to hearing any more you have to say about this. God bless!

    • theomusicologist says:

      What a kind comment, and thank you so much, my dear Sister Cherylin. Not everyone agrees that I have done my best to be fair and polite to him despite the seriousness of my disagreement with what he is propagating. We can never please everyone – parts three (and four) will follow in due course. God bless you too!

  4. charles says:

    I don’t think Berdahl is intending to deceive anyone. The point he is probably trying to make and phrased wrong is that “occult experts believe that syncopation in music is the source of occult power”. I would shocked if you asked Berdahl to clarify that statement and he stood by a “syncopation IS the source of occult power” statement as if on its own syncopation has any power.

    When my three year old daughter listened to syncopated music and started dancing in a sexually suggestive way – having never seen anyone dance suggestively – that clued me in that the music is not Christian. She has never danced in a suggestive manner to music lacking that syncopated beat. We could argue over what about the music suggests that kind of sexual dance – but my personal opinion based on experience is that it is the rhythm.

    • theomusicologist says:

      I am also sure that he has not actively set out to deceive anyone, but what he has said is what he has said, and there is a sense in which when we move towards interpreting what people have said rather than responding to what they have actually said, life can be complicated. Some other people have taken the same position that you have, but others are hanging on to his precise wording. All of us in public ministry have a duty to be as precise as we can be…

      I take the point about your daughter, but I have no idea precisely what you are referring to as ‘syncopated music’ – there are massive sections in the Brahms German Requiem that can only be described as ‘syncopated’ – and Bach uses it too. Some beautiful praise and worship songs also have syncopation – and then we have other praise and worship songs where the beat drives way, way too hard. I have no desire to argue with your personal experience, but I also have experience (personal) that if you are listening to secular r’n’b music which is said to suggest the rhythms of sex, if you know what sex is, you may well be triggered in that direction, but if you are sexually inactive you may completely fail to respond in that way – so this is an example of a construction that may well be less than universal…

      • Mimi says:

        Thank you for allowing posts.

        Not all sycopation is bad as Christian Berdahl says.

        You quoted “if you’re sexually inactive you will fail to respond to R’n’b type music.” There is ERROR in this statement my friend. You complain how C. Berdahl isn’t qualified, but you are no Neurosurgeon and do not qualify to make that claim. Scientists in neurology have done studies and reasearch all around the world on how the senses pick up and are stimulated sexually to that type of music (sexually active or not). The commercial industry spends billions of dollars a year on hypnotizing music (including r’n’b)….why? Because they know they can release those sexual hormones and excite you as your brain identifies this is a pleasure moment. One would have to be blind if they think “I’m not going to let that music or this music influence me!” Sorry, but there is no such thing as “I am not going to let that influence me” if you hang around that. You see…..influence is like a cold, you catch it. It just happes. Thats’s why Jesus tells us to guard our minds over and over.
        See these links, http://cupwire.ca/articles/40010

        http://www.canadiangeographic.ca/magazine/jf06/alacarte.asp

        I didn’t hear you state facts very much, you are just opinionated maybe. You are justifying your ways so you can continue listening to what you desire.

      • theomusicologist says:

        It is very unfortunate that you have misquoted me – but this is only to be expected at times. Here is what I actually wrote:

        “…if you are sexually inactive you may completely fail to respond in that way…”

        There is a big difference between “may fail” and “will fail.” I try to be extremely careful in how I express myself and nearly had a heart attack when I saw what you had accused me of writing. But when I checked (again), I saw what I had actually written – which made sense and is fully congruent with how I speak and write in general.

        As for your other comments, in due course I will have to write a proper piece of work on dopamine, but if you have not bothered to read what I wrote properly and have made an emotional response with capital letters, then you have provided me with a perfect object lesson for other teaching contexts. On this evidence it makes no real sense to engage with you in any technical detail, and for your own sake you cannot afford that sort of reading error if you are genuinely serious about understanding what you read. All the best.

  5. M.M. says:

    I see now what this is all about. You have people around you that are not happy with your association with this man who are both in secure and christian music industry.
    From what I have read, you have not cared to follow the bible teaching in correcting whatever minor errors Christian has, but has taken advantage of it by being a devil’s tool.
    I see your actions equals that of the pharisees and scribes in their dealings with Jesus Christ. They were learned in Jewish schools but still fell short of spirituals matters pertaining to salvation.
    I am not English, but for what I know, the word “may” means it can or it can not.Now that Christian was saying music has that effect, you countered that idea as not being true. So the earlier contributor was correct when she picked the other side of what you were saying. By the way, I read the sites mimi posted and seem to agree with Christian.
    Your academics are far more superior than your christian faith and fellowship.

    • theomusicologist says:

      It is inevitable that persons would have these opinions. I am sorry that you have felt the need to make such personal comments, but those say more about you than they do about me. I also read the sites and I do not intend to make the mistake of posting a weak, half-witted defensive response to what you have said. If, without knowing me (and believe me, if you really knew me, you could never have expressed yourself this way so should you be an acquaintance of some sort you still won’t know me) you have felt able to write as you have, then I can only hope that you live at the highest possible standard of Christian life yourself, or else you have been hypocritical and Jesus had something to say about judgement (Matthew 7:1…).

      I am sure that Mimi meant well and while in time if she ever returns here she will discover precisely why I have made the point/s that I have. She may still disagree, but she will have to find a different verbal framework for her disagreement. I am not at all sure what I make of what you have written here in terms of your sincerity of heart (although I can speculate), but in the final analysis your motives are a matter for you and God. Good day to you.

  6. Alissa M. says:

    With total due respect, honestly, I really feel a part of the issue may be due to your heritage: it seems that black people are more attracted to certain types of music, or this syncopation that Berdhal is speaking of. Perhaps you are on a bit of a defense? I’ve been to many types of churches, mixed race, Hispanic, white and black and noticed that the black churches are more susceptible to having a bit of charismatic-worship style thrown in there.

    • theomusicologist says:

      Alissa, with equal respect, honestly, I am not sure where you live and what you mean by ‘many.’ I can guess – but I don’t know.

      If you have not experienced white Pentecostal and white charismatic churches, and if you have not become aware of the growing movement within Euro-American Adventism that basically wants to become much more ecumenical – and where CCM reigns supreme, then I am genuinely not sure where you have been or what you have experienced.

      If you are Adventist, then I’d love to know which conference you are based in. That might explain how you could even begin to say such a thing. Just elsewhere on this blog someone has told me about Jesus Culture, and IHOP. Go google those names and see how many black faces you see on the photo images representing the movements. Take a look at Hillsong and tell me how many black faces they have in their output. And even Southern gospel music – Bill Gaither, anyone? – has 20 years worth of Homecoming video concerts where you can count the black artists on the fingers of one hand.

      I have just come from a conference where a sociologist delivered a devastating critique regarding racial understandings in both white and allegedly multi-racial churches in the USA. I don’t know you, but your comment will remain up here as another object lesson.

      • It seems most of these replies are ad hominen arguments. It would be nice to have an intelligent debate about whether all occult power comes from syncopation instead of attacking the messenger, why not debate the question?

    • This is the worst and most racist reply. I am a Caucasian female and although I have never met him, I agree with the Theomusicologist. Such a flimsy argument reflects more on your lack of cognitive ability than on his musical choices. While there are certain cultural styles if music, syncopation is everywhere–in commercial jingles, children’s songs at church and southern gospel. Theomusicologist, I am sorry for the ignorance that accompanies such racist remarks. I know what it is to be criticized, but no one has ever used my race as a reason–this has got to be a new low in your readership, but I believe it is for lack of a credible argument.

  7. Songbird says:

    Musical Academia…Wow, what a tumult over singular words and their definitions. My heart aches. I must reflecting upon my own living experience with music, rhythm and human activity. Our Creator has made me to understand that the rhythmical sounds in earth and sea and sky are in sympathy with my own natural heartbeat, breathing and even physical activity, such manual outdoor labor. ( ie: true education) Within nature’s boundaries our Creator set forth, I believe, sound and musical principals arranged specifically for our proper physical, spiritual and emotional well-being and development. In response, I often sing or listen to various musical selections throughout the day. Music, in its simplest form, arranged and expressed, in cooperation with my own body rhythm and with the sounds and rhythm’s within nature, is harmony. For example, listen to the rhythm of many winging birds, a puddle of croaking frogs, evening crickets, galloping horses, the whisper of the wind in the treetops; even all at one time, they musically cooperate together without discord. Add your own rhythm of breathing, or a simple household activity such as walking, kneading bread, painting the deck, sweeping the walk, or waxing the car. Then add, amazingly the rhythm of proper conversation. They all fit together. Then, “to prove all things” introduce ‘unnatural’ syncopation to even one of the above sounds, and immediately peace and harmony is compromised. Our Creator is a designer of harmony, not discord! We each have different gifts and talents and if we are listening to the same voice, we will be in harmony with one another, “till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” Eph 4. Amen.

    • theomusicologist says:

      My dear Songbird,

      It is nice that you care about such matters. However, while I appreciate the lovely panegyric, there is much more work to do on this matter of understanding music as a phenomenon. I had begun to think of quitting, but now this comment of yours has revitalised me.

      I’m not interested in arguing with you for the sake of argument. Neither am I interested in saying anything against your personal feelings and experiences. But if a doctor tells me that something is bad for me – e.g. I am allergic to a certain food substance – but I know that whenever I eat that food, I feel ‘good’ – then I may argue that this doctor does not know what they are talking about.

      So the ‘technical knowledge’ of the ‘qualified professional’ will always be ignored by anyone who chooses, and truth is therefore as relative to Christians as to those who do not believe the Christian gospel.

      I am sorry, but what you have offered not an honest biblical exposition of Paul’s thinking. We are not allowed to do that sort of ‘patchwork quilt’ job with the text! While you are at liberty to offer your opinion that syncopation is ‘unnatural,’ this is not a thesis that will stand up to rigorous musical, musicological or theological scrutiny. The sheer physicality of playing many musical instruments is not ‘natural.’ The violin is a very clear example of that. Singing in the even-tempered scales of the West is also not ‘natural.’ And musicologists have acknowledged the ‘myth of consonance and dissonance’ with regard to harmony – the very reason why we use the phrase ‘music theory’ – with ‘theory’ being the operative word!

      I’ll leave the theology of unity for now. Ephesians 4 (and the rest) deserve better treatment than time allows at present. Thank you for taking time to express your feelings; God bless you!

  8. Edgar Eleguen says:

    Listening to the lecture of Christian, I am so blessed, The principles of church music he is teaching are the same principles I have been espousing for so many years. His messages delivered are anchored in the Biblical principles…I advocate sacred music. I am blessed by his messages.. Thanks Christian…I am looking forward to inviting you in the near future. God bless.

    • theomusicologist says:

      Edgar, I’m not sure that Christian will get your message from this blog unless you invite him, but I am sure that it would have been quicker and more efficient to contact him directly. If you disagree with the opinions on this blog, then you could at least actually come out and say that! Unless there’s something that I don’t know?? Good luck to you!

  9. Why did God not warn us about syncopation ? he did warn us about useless arguments,he did warn us about making excuses,he did warn us about our own sin nature,he did say that we sin because we are drawn to it by our own sinful nature,no mention of syncopation.

  10. theomusicologist says:

    Eight years ago, I’d have been so worked up I would have taken the time to demonstrate the precise range of my activities off this blog. As it is, I have emailed the sender of this comment privately so they can decide if this comment was a good use of time and thought. And if anyone else wants to know if all I do is write blogs, in time you may find out the answer for yourself. Others have found me online, and I have a gravatar!

  11. Songbird says:

    I never gave up seeing your reply, and now, I am thankful that you are revitalized!
    I am so much in love with my Creator for leading me beside still waters, where I can ‘be still and know’ my God. I am so grateful to Him that He has also spoke to me through music.

    I am unsure of what it means that in the realm of rigorous musical, musicological or theological scrutiny, my comment about adding ‘unnaturally’ syncopated sounds and the resulting compromise, does not stand. Are you speaking purely from an academic perspective rather than an experiential one? If so, will you at least try the experiment I spoke of learning from? In the context of my thought, was my use of the term ‘unnatural’ understood? Was it that I implied that syncopation is ‘unnatural’? If so, I will confess my wariness of the harmful affects of some types of music on my being. Cutting off the offense, I deliberately discarded many wicked albums as well as some beautifully composed, feel good, supposedly christian, but very carnal music. For some years, I took an almost total fast. Then, in the silence of my own soul, Jesus spoke to me in two ways. First, He spoke to me through the sights and associated sounds of nature’s classroom, and then, in the simple tunes and accompanying words of some of the great of Hymns which testify of God’s love, majesty and power, but also of trial, duty, faith and obedience on my part.
    Today, as during the great reformation, we are in just such need of a revival of primitive Godliness among us as a people, and I believe that just such music will play a vastly important part.

    In music, as in the so called health food industry, we must come together on what the word ‘natural’ really means when it is used in the promise of good health. God forbid that we call anything natural or unnatural; that is not truly such a thing. Maybe you can help with this, especially in the area of syncopation.

    Lastly, I believe that by following Jesus, we, as a people, as culturally diverse as we are, will walk together; we will sing the same song, and nature, of course, will sing along. The experiences of those who have walked before us, or who are walking ahead of us on the ever upward trail; these experiences will become our own. My brother, if you are ahead of me on the path of truly understanding the power, majesty and righteousness of truly Godly music that will resonate with Heaven’s arches, I want to be a partaker of this experience with you! This is why I am on your blog.

  12. Jon Most says:

    Perhaps Mr. Berdahl should play some syncopated music when he is speaking so his listeners will throw out their pre-frontal cortex and believe the tripe he is espousing. If it works, then I might take him seriously.

    • Rocky says:

      Actually, he has in his “distraction dilemma” music seminar. In that seminar he said that syncopation isn’t bad, he only cautions not to overuse it. In fact, Christian admits that even he uses some syncopation in his own music.

      • theomusicologist says:

        Rocky, I am well aware that he has since gone back and said that not all syncopation is bad.

        Unless he is man enough to stand up and say that the way in which he hammered syncopation in the video link that I posted was not inspired by the Holy Spirit and was out of line, I’m not going to be able to respect a word he says about syncopation. How on earth does he expect to be credible by saying what he says in the interview I posted – the wording was EXTREMELY specific – and now he just expects that he can change his mind with no acknowledgement of the damage done by his earlier statements?

        Seriously not impressed, I’m afraid. We ALL make mistakes. But stand up and say so when you realise you were out of line!

    • theomusicologist says:

      What he is doing and saying is so unfortunate!

  13. Rocky says:

    I remember hearing Christian compare syncopation to salt. It’s okay have it, just don’t over do it. Speaking of salt, I take everything people say with a grain of salt and from what I got out of listening to his “distraction dilemma” series is the same thing as saying “too much of anything is bad for you”. I didn’t really need to watch that series to know that, I’ve heard that saying many times in various different other contexts.

  14. Thank-you for writing this blog.

    For me It is most upsetting and scary to have people unwittingly believe misinformation from the pulpit and then proceed to accept it like its gospel. Music is art, its expression, its freedom. Its beautiful in many ways. Mr Berdahl wants people to put a limitation on those things…

    Its as if he were to get up on stage and preach that we should no longer use colors when drawing pictures limiting us to only black shades.

    The sad thing is a lot of adventist will support this guy purely because it halts progression into other styles of worship music – keep holding on to them hymns you oldies.

    • theomusicologist says:

      Thanks for writing in, Josh. Just to say: I LOVE hymns – for me, they’re an indispensable part of the story of the dissemination of the gospel in the modern world (as in the technical historical sense), and some are as fantastic now as they were then…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s