Are some types of music inherently evil, or should each piece of music be judged on its own merits?

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“Are some types of music inherently evil, or should each piece of music be judged on its own merits?” Ensign, July 1974, 14

Some of the Brethren have spoken against some types of contemporary music. Are some types of music just inherently evil, or should each piece of music be judged on its own merits?

Larry Bastian, chairman, Church Youth Music Committee: The basic building blocks of music are melody, harmony, and rhythm. Like disconnected words, these elements by themselves are neither good nor evil, but they can be combined in a myriad of ways to create an equal number of effects. A skilled musician uses them to communicate a mood or feeling. If he is successful, the listener will respond emotionally to the mood the composer or performer has sought to create.

There are at least three important persons who participate in each musical experience. First is the composer, who writes the melody and suggests a harmonic and rhythmic treatment. That which he seeks to communicate is then interpreted by an arranger or performer, who may treat the music in such a fashion as to communicate exactly the opposite from that intended by the composer.

The third important person is the listener. Our musical tastes are the result of conditioning and personal experience. Every person responds to music, then, in his own unique fashion.

The key to discerning the quality of music lies in what it communicates to us individually and personally. Perhaps we Latter-day Saints have not often enough asked ourselves the question: “What does this music say to me?” Considering the influence of evil in the affairs of today’s world, especially in contemporary entertainment, we should ask it often.

If one can answer that a song is spiritually inspiring or that it urges him to see himself in a more noble perspective, then that music is good. If the music just entertains or momentarily lifts the spirits, then it has a useful place. If it makes him want to respond in a carnal, sensual way or to consider unrighteous desires, then that music should be avoided.

Sometimes the environment in which music is heard has an effect of its own. For example, a song that sounds pleasant and refreshing on the stereo at home may make a different impression in a remote corner of a darkened room with the music at blaring level.

Music is the language of the heart and of the spirit. It often communicates on a level where words are inadequate. It is on this level that it must be evaluated. We may not understand sometimes why we respond as we do, but we should measure the response, choose that which is compatible with our understanding of the eternal nature of things, and reject the rest.