We shouldn’t be scared of talking about anything through music, one of the last few places where that is still true. So why can’t we talk about religion without it being termed religious music?
Sufjan Stevens is a Christian. In today’s society – one where a pastor recently commented that it is harder to ‘come out’ as Christian than as gay – that could be a big deal. In fact, it is a big deal – or at least that’s what anyone listening to his music would think. That’s because Sufjan often draws from his beliefs in his music, with lyrics like ”. But it’s not in an evangelistic, bombastic way. He simply draws on his beliefs like all musicians do, whether they are beliefs of love, hate or religion. Often, he draws on his beliefs to help us consider our own mortality, no matter how secular we are. This leads itself to quiet music, as you might think. But what means it is considered great music, not just great Christian music, is what Sufjan doesn’t play.
That’s because sometimes silence is the best part of a song. The pause, the intake of breath, before a guitar anthem crashes into the chorus can be exhilarating. Likewise, acoustic songs can be made great by pauses between strums, which can be filled with whatever the listener wants it to be. Sufjan’s Steven’s skill here is similarly born from a lack of music. The fact that it is only one man and a synth adds a kind of nudity to the song; it feels (to me, anyway) like it speaks with more emotion than a full orchestra could ever achieve. Why? Perhaps because it’s as close to simply speaking to us as an artist can ever achieve.
If there were more people making music like Sufjan does – taking the power of religion and religious belief and relating it to everybody’s lives – then religious music would no longer be Religious Music.