Grenville interviewed by Wai Yee Lee 17th March 2012

What, in your opinion, is the purpose of music?
The purpose is to not only glorify God, but also to give God a voice, to allow God to speak, to try and create a music that God can actually talk to people through, a voice that can be used by the Holy Spirit. It comes from the precedence of Bach and the entire Western tradition. Music only became secular in the past couple of hundred years. So I believe that the Western tradition is actually the tradition of worshiping God, and music is part of religious culture.

You mentioned the idea of the icon in your thesis?
Yes, absolutely. The icon came into disrepute and was generally frowned upon in Protestant circles – because it’s an image. The idea  is that the artist paints an icon as an act of worship and that God infuses these icons with His presence – it’s an idea which perfectly describes my attitude to music, and also Pärt’s and Tavener’s. And if Bach would say on his scores Jesu, Juva (JJ: Jesus, help), so the idea of God actually coming into the music is very essential in the Christian compositional tradition, whether or not Christians believe in icons anymore – Greek and Russian Orthodox believe in icons – but Protestants tend not to. But the idea of iconic music is certainly the bedrock of Christian worship.

What touched you to write music for your faith?
Well, I felt I was called. I thought God actually told me to become a composer when I was young. It was when I asked God “what should I do with in my life” – and I believe He told me to become a -composer. Before I was converted, my first real experience with God was listening to Bach’s B minor Mass. And then I became a Christian about a year later. So, the idea that God can speak through music has always been there with me. But I don’t think I would have thought of becoming a composer to glorify God because I don’t think I’m worthy or clever enough to actually do that. I just felt God asked me to write this stuff.

Why do you write music for orchestra but not for other forms of music? Why do you prefer real instruments to synthesizers?
I use traditional instruments because there is so much more information, that is, more human, more personal information in a real instrument because there are endless inflections of pitch, vibrato, time and so on. It’s incredibly subtle. It’s very difficult to achieve a really good performance, but a good performance has got a magic about it – it lives – because there’s so much more information in every note. One note on any instrument has got a whole bunch of information that is really complex, or two notes can relate to each other in a far more complex way than two notes on the computer – because it is more human, it can be more intimate I think.

I have read your research; you have talked about the music and language. What do you think that music can bring to people in relation to the Bible? Does it affect your writing of music?
According to the Old Testament, music is part of God’s prophetic utterance. So when people prophesied, they often had musicians with them. There’s a story of David when Saul was oppressed by an evil spirit; it went away when David played. So there’s a huge spiritual dynamic in music. It was seen as part of the mystery of God speaking, and I think God still does use music to speak through; it’s an integral part of worship. The actual receiving of the Holy Spirit and God speaking the Holy Spirit into our life is an essential part of Christian life and music facilitates that. So the use hasn’t changed really. God’s voice in the Holy Spirit was given for the decoration of the art work of the Temple and Tabernacle. God’s inspiration has been relied on for a long time. So we are just continuing that, and this seems entirely natural to me – it seems unnatural to use high art in a secular setting – it seems wrong to me; I feel it should be part of that Christian tradition. I believe that composers like Bach are misrepresented when they are presented as part of secular human culture. When Adorno describes Bach, it’s seems that he has completely lost the plot. You can’t describe Bach in Neo-Marxist, secular terms. He said he had a gift from God, he said he asked God for help, he said that the music was for the glory of God – I think we should believe Bach, not Adorno.

You have mentioned a lot of composers in history who shared the same Christian faith -like Bach, Messiaen, Hildegard of Bingen, Arvo Pärt and John Tavener. What do these composers all have in common?
They all believed that God would speak through their music. It’s all about the immanence of God – that God actually speaks through their music. That was their aim. Their aim was not only to produce something to glorify God and lift up people’s spirits, but also to produce something that God can speak through. It’s about the presence of God coming through the music. They felt called by God to do this. This is the common link, they believed that the music is actually there to be used by God.

One point is very interesting in the text that although all these composers came from different times, they shared the same faith and were likely to give a common message.
Absolutely yes. Hildegard was very oppressed by the religious authorities for writing her music, but she did it because she believed God told her to do it. Eight hundred years later she had a hit on Classic FM. You couldn’t have told her that in eight hundred years time this music was going to be used on a radio station and in a hit CD, because she would not have understood that. But she knew God called her to do it. It’s the same way that Bach wrote the B minor Mass. It didn’t fit into the Lutheran or Catholic mass, but he wrote it in his best hand. And he didn’t know what it was for really because he expected his music to die with him. But it was resurrected; it became one of the central pieces in the European classical music. This is the central idea, that throughout long periods of time, God uses certain music in the same way that He used the prophets – they didn’t see the benefit of their prophesies. Remember Hebrews 11 – the great people of God who did not see the result of their obedience to God and the work they did.

Do you believe you are carrying the same mission as them?
Well, in a small way, I believe in that mission. But I don’t seriously put myself anywhere near the league of someone like Bach. But I think the message is the same for everyone no matter what you do. If God has called you to sweep this street, or if God has called you to do anything, then God will use it for His kingdom. That’s from being a humble preacher, handing out Christian literature or whatever to translating the Bible – whatever you are called to do then that will have an effect for God’s kingdom. It is not just musicians who feel this, but the reason I say this is because music has become a secular endeavour. It’s become about people. It’s become about human culture, when really its subject is properly God – the subject of high art should be God, not people.

Can you tell me what your music is about?
The Crucifixion is about the crucifixion of Jesus. It’s a narrative of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Pentecostal Symphony is about the receipt of the Holy Spirit. One hopes that the listener will actually receive the person of Jesus in the Crucifixion, and the listener will receive the person of the Holy Spirit in the Pentecostal Symphony. It’s about unfolding the actual things of God to the listener.

How do you review these messages in your music?
It’s back to the idea of immanence. One tries to be obedient to God when one is writing this stuff. It’s not as if you can actually construct it or manipulate it so that God uses it. You have to be dependent on God when you’re writing it – which is back to Bach’s Jesu Juva, Jesus help.

Can you summarise the function of music in your faith?
It’s to achieve God’s purposes. It does facilitate prophecy; it releases His prophecy. It can be for healing, one of God’s proper names is Yahweh Rapha, God the healer. That’s one of God’s Old Testament names and it’s part of the first covenant as well as the second covenant through Jesus. So God’s nature is to heal. That’s one of God’s attributes; His personality is He who heals. And God is available to all through Jesus Christ. The music is ideally intended to be used by God for His purposes to express His nature. And, I would quote Luther, which I have quoted in my text, that music is “useful for actually rebuking the devil”. That’s what Luther said.

Do you have anything you want to tell us at the end?
I could just say that all these things may sound very grand, but to me this is the normal attitude for every musician and every Christian. This is not saying we have our heads in the clouds, that we must produce great works. We’re saying that this is the normal attitude for every musician, certainly every Christian musician should try to glorify God, to facilitate the Spirit of God on earth and the power of God, to extend His kingdom. Music is part of our worship. It is this sacred thing that is part of our worship. It is possible to worship without music. We mustn’t say that ours is the only way, but music has always been a large part of the business of worship. Well, not always, but certainly since the instigation of Solomon’s temple. David hired musicians. He was a man after God’s own heart. He paid the musicians. I think that’s a wonderful thing, that the musicians were paid to worship God. They were actually employed to worship God.

In the modern Charismatic church, music is used in a very intimate way to worship God, but it’s generally a guitar and someone singing. But that actual intimacy with God, I believe, is the reason for a lot of the European tradition. This was the idea with which Bach wrote virtually all his music. And this idea has been forgotten so on the one hand you get the Charismatic church singing a few choruses with a guitar in order to facilitate the Holy Spirit, which is wonderful, and on the other hand the entire European repertoire being performed in a secular situation, which is appropriate in some cases, but the music which was written for worship should be performed in a worshipful context – performed as part of a church service.