Play No Evil: Are You Ready for Music Censorship?
By Dendy Jarrett |
The marching band was banned …
This past week one hard-working, long-rehearsing, and sun-baked high school band got benched by a Federal Judge for allegedly having a hymn as part of their half-time show repertoire (although it wasn’t even a hymn…more on this later).
The ruling from U.S. District Judge, Carlton Reeves stated: “Defendants are permanently enjoined from including prayer, religious sermons, or activities in any school-sponsored event including but not limited to assemblies, graduations, award ceremonies, athletic events and any other school event. This means administrators, teachers and staff of the Rankin County School District may not participate in any religious activity, or solicit or encourage religious activities at school or while performing duties as a RCSD employee.”
Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m all for separation of church and state—render unto Caesar, and all that. But with all the issues facing us that need to be addressed, do we really need a federal injunction to stop a high school band in Mississippi from playing “How Great Thou Art”?
And it was going to be an instrumental version, so this isn’t a hymn anyway—it’s by definition an anthem, because it’s an assembly of notes on a page to form a piece of music. What defines a grouping of notes as a hymn are the words that accompany it. However, the band wasn’t planning on singing the hymn.
Now, there’s no dispute that “How Great Thou Art” has religious overtones. But so do pieces of Bach. What’s next, no studying of Bach’s brilliant harmonies because he was the church organist and wrote much of his music as an homage to God? And while I can’t imagine any high school band playing John Coltrane’s “Ascension,” he often played to a higher power. How many times does Prince, a Jehovah’s Witness, mention God in his music? David Bowie’s Buddhism has been a big influence on his songs. Are we going to have to start parsing all music just in case there are religious references in there somewhere? Some people think Taylor Swift’s “Eyes Open” references Scripture. Well, does it? I have no idea.
Listen, people, it’s music—which is primarily a form of entertainment. Entertainers get their inspiration from a variety of sources. What’s next? Should this year’s Drum Corps International’s Second Place Winners, Carolina Crown, have been banned because their closing piece was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 and there is also a hymn, "Ode to Joy," set to the same music?
It’s really time to lighten up. This kind of stunt simply distracts from real problems. I’d much rather that the government take a long, hard look at copyright law in the digital era. Or why companies get away with not paying royalties…or clarifying laws like the Lacey Act (hello, Gibson!) where it’s hard for companies to know whether they’re violating the law or not.
It’s a shame that a band wasn’t allowed to play a simple piece of music. If I had the funds, I’d tell them to play the song and pay the $10,000 fine myself. No one should be banned from musical expression, especially when in the end it’s all about giving people a little bit of joy in their lives—courtesy of music.
Dendy Jarrett is the Publisher and Director of Harmony Central. He has been heavily involved at the executive level in many aspects of the drum and percussion industry for over 25 years and has been a professional player since he was 16. His articles and product reviews have been featured in InTune Monthly, Gig Magazine, DRUM! and Modern Drummer Magazines.