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Loud Church Music – A Medical Comment

Clergy/Leaders’ Mail-list No. 3-022 (Leadership Issues)


by Dr Lachlan Dunjey

I write as a church musician of 40+ years, as a doctor, and as a church elder.

Unfortunately two of these qualifications will tend to invalidate my comments to those who will say I am biased because of my age and because I am ‘not with it’. Therefore I want to say right at the outset that just as we know that cigarette smoking is medically harmful, so also is music that is too loud and there are aspects of Christian responsibility that must apply to both.

What is needed first is education and maybe the culture that exists in some churches can gradually change.

Let me also say that I have probably been guilty in the past of having my own personal music too loud – not in church having been part of a culture that felt that quietness enhanced ‘holiness’ and I tended to specialise in music that was quiet, reflective and (I felt) facilitated being face-to-face with our Holy God.

Part of my own medical problem now – constant tinnitus for about 6 years and increasing deafness – could be partly due to my own previous enjoyment of loud music, as well as unprotected use of power equipment etc.

There is – very understandably – a tendency that as we are able to reproduce music better and better so we have it louder and louder. This is a source of pleasure in itself “hey, we did it – listen to this fidelity!” And sound control at the amplification console has become an art form in and of itself. The control of sound ambience made possible by this equipment is also exercised with pleasure – and a degree of self-satisfaction – at church functions other than services and with even greater degree of damage.

It is important to realise that the reasons outlined in this paper have nothing to do with taste or culture or age or personality or adaptability to change or appreciation of technology or appreciation of changing music styles or syncopated rhythms or the appropriate use of percussion.

Diversity in taste (‘Lord, thank you for diversity in our fellowships’) in music is a fact of life and a joyful aspect of church life.

So what are the problems?

Sound (not just ‘noise’) that is above a certain decibel level is harmful to our hearing and can permanently damage it. It aggravates the ‘natural’ tendency to aging sensorineural deafness, this being probably related to the ‘fallen’ state of our bodies and I am sure that the pure and majestically loud sounds we will hear in heaven will not damage our then perfect hearing and I look forward to that day. However while still here on earth it is apparent that exposure to levels above 85dB will cause damage.

For those with damaged hearing, sound that is above a certain decibel level can be painful. Not just ‘not to their taste’, but actually inducing pain. Percussion would be the most frequent cause of this. Please listen to people who say that it hurts.

For those with damaged hearing, sound that is above a certain decibel level interferes with their ability to hear normal speech. This becomes significant when someone is talking over background music and particularly applies to after-church morning-tea-and- mingle time – the purpose of such time being to greet newcomers, look after each other and generally enjoy being a part of the body of Christ. Please listen to people when they say they cannot hear because of the music. Loud music in these circumstances can be a hindrance to the proper functioning of the body of Christ and can be said to be irresponsible and selfish. A ‘jam’ time for the musicians delight can be held elsewhere or at another time (but they should wear ear-muffs and the audience should be 100 metres away!).

When talking with some people about the distress sometimes inflicted the response has occasionally been that they ‘don’t agree’ and won’t cooperate. This has the inevitable effect of driving the affected section of the church congregation away – either to their homes or to another fellowship – at a time of their lives when contact with the younger generation is both an advantage to them and also to the youth in terms of Christian maturity and witness. It is imperative to accommodate both young and old in our church congregations and to ignore the needs of either is to lack graciousness and love. There is a middle road which is to the glory of God.

Church leaders also have a responsibility to make sure the music and sound amplification groups are pulled into line – this also is a matter of Christian stewardship and ‘authority’ should be exercised properly in a way to minimise damaging enthusiasm. Once again, aspects of facilitation of worship are significant matters on which to appeal as well as those mentioned above.

Music that is too loud is bad for your health and is a matter of Christian responsibility.

Further reading: Loud Music: A Prayer of Dedication http://jmm.org.au/ (or just do a ‘google’ search for ‘loud music church prayer’ and you’ll have it in one second flat!) It appeared as CLM-2-139.

How Loud is Your Church 2001-9 http://www.experiencingworship.com/articles/sound/

– Lachlan Dunjey Morley Baptist Church, West Australia.


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