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10 (or so) questions with: Justin St Vincent November 23, 2009

Posted by Andrew Killick (Publishing Manager) in 2. Author Interviews, 4. Castle Distributed Books, Justin St Vincent, Spiritual Significance of Music.
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Justin St Vincent is passionate about music and its spiritual implications. Early this year he launched www.musicandspirituality.com – an astonishing collection of interviews with a vast number of musicians and authors exploring the deeper meanings of music. In the finest traditions of the internet, these interviews are all available free. Needless to say, Justin’s website has become incredibly popular.

Justin has recently released an excellent new book The Spiritual Significance of Music (published by Xtreme Music) based on the material featured on www.musicandspirituality.com. We here at Castle Publishing have had the honour of working alongside him on this project. We talked to Justin about his book, and the interview will be featured in an upcoming edition of Challenge Weekly. But here, for your reading pleasure, is the uncut transcript of our discussion…

Your website www.musicandspirituality.com has grown into an impressive resource. Tell us how this project started.

The project began in March 2006 when I returned to New Zealand from Youth With A Mission at The University of the Nations in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. I was filled with a passionate desire to build a bridge between music culture and the Gospel. I started interviewing many musicians I admire and appreciate, and began collecting a series of intriguing interviews that developed into this epic project. Since then I’ve interviewed over 1000 people on their beliefs about The Spiritual Significance of Music. On January 1st 2009, I freely published everything online as PDF downloadable interviews, when after three days the website crashed with overloaded bandwidth usage. With over 180,000 website hits in a few days, it became clear to me that many people who love music also have a spiritual hunger to learn more about the dynamic relationship between music and spirituality. Since then over twenty new and exclusive interviews were being published monthly, and almost daily I received e-mails from people requesting a printed book. The Spiritual Significance of Music was a natural birth taking nine months from the mothersite: www.musicandspirituality.com

What can people expect to find on the website and in your new book?

The book and website embrace the diversity of music and spirituality. Like music, the book does not discriminate against spiritual background or religious beliefs, it’s just happy to have your attention. It will be challenging and controversial to many Christian readers. But how boring would it be if we all agreed? Imagine printing a book called The Spiritual Significance of Music, and only publishing the Christian Edition of the interviews. You would end up having a biased book that was extremely myopic in its scope, and dangerously unrepresentative. I couldn’t imagine a more pointless project than to feed a Christian marketplace with responses that all agreed with one-another, and essentially was “preaching to the choir”. Just as well from my experience no two Christians identically agree on the relationship between music and spirituality. That’s what makes this book so dynamic in its content and powerful in its message. We desperately need to be introduced to worldviews different from our own, in order to know the culture, know the Gospel, then translate. Some Christians may keep their faith in ivory towers, yet it is time we honoured the Great Commission, and participate in compelling missions that engage the world around us with the Gospel.

Did you meet most of the interviewees face to face? Which interviews particularly stand out in your mind and why?

As much as I’d love to meet most of the interviewees face to face, the reality is that studio recordings, tour schedules, and live performances take priority in their music career. In my experience, I’ve found asking questions on music and spirituality to be a deeply personal connection that is best left to e-mail correspondence. Then the interviewee can accurately articulate the response they want to share with the world. Imagine asking “what do you believe is the spiritual significance of music?” after an incredible concert at a noisy live venue, and then trying to record a response! Logistically, because this book is a text-based project, e-mails and letters were the best method of communication with all the authors and musicians. It allowed for more efficient and productive interviews. The interviews that particularly stand out in my mind are the ones I’ve shared with members of Dawn Of Azazel, Faith No More, Guns N’ Roses, and The Locust because they are highly supportive of this project, and have shared remarkable insights in their responses.

Throughout this project what would be the number one thing you have personally learnt about music and spirituality?

There is more to music than meets the ear. I’ve learnt something new from every interview. Each response has illuminated a unique voice sharing an intimate view of what they believe, and what they create. Their wonderful words are extremely personal, and I deeply cherish, honour, and respect each of the musicians and writers that have contributed to this epic anthology. God so loved the world that He blessed it with a way of communicating that speaks directly to the spirit. My hope is that every reader will also learn something new from every interview.

For you as a Christian, what’s it like interviewing a musician whose views on spirituality are not Christian?

I feel absolute peace and pleasure when I interview musicians whose views on spirituality are not Christian. It reminds me of the famous quotation from the film Chariots Of Fire when Eric Liddell, famous Olympian and missionary said, “I feel God’s pleasure when I run”. This project has continually reminded me of God’s eternal grace, divine mercy, and abundant love.

What would you say is the overall message of your book?

“We are the spiritual significance of music.” Music and Spirituality are universal languages with global appeal. Both have a direct influence and impact on the human spirit. I believe God has placed a spiritual seed within music that can point people back to Him.

What sort of feedback have you had about the material found on the website and in the book?

The feedback from this book has been positively overwhelming. Many people seem to resonate with the reoccurring themes that surface throughout the interviews in this book. I’ve also published online over 100 responses from this project, feel free to view here.

From a Christian perspective, what do you hope people will get from the book?

I hope people will consider that the spiritual significance of music is not exclusive to the Christian faith. From a Christian perspective, let’s not be misguided that we have the monopoly on the truth behind music and spirituality. The Bible has much to say on this, but in all honesty I find it extremely difficult to theologise music. I’ve been blessed by the new perspectives included within this book, and my hope is that people will be challenged and inspired.

Where to from here for you and this project?

The Spiritual Significance of Music is the first in a book series exploring music and spirituality. I probably have enough content for another ten books, but at this early stage, I’m taking one step at a time, and learning something new every day. My next project associated with the book will be a series of music compilations, published online, and freely available featuring “Song Stories” from some of the most visionary musicians throughout the world. Every song has a story, and this series will showcase songs by its makers, and the stories that inspired them.

The Spiritual Significance of Music retails for NZ$29.95. Contact us for more info or to order a copy.

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