Schrodinger’s Halftime Show: The Music From Both Heaven and Earth

The following is just for fun.  I am not a constitutional lawyer, a physicist, or a band director. Be advised beforehand: The Constitution is much, much more complex than the version I present here.  As is quantum physics.  As is directing high school bands.  Please accept this with a grain of salt. 


Physicist Erwin Schrodinger famously proposed a scenario to illustrate some of the finer points of “quantum theory.” It goes like this: A cat is placed in a box with a death device.  The death device could go off and kill the cat, or not go off and leave it alive, with equal probability.  So at the end of a minute, the researcher has no idea what in the world’s going on with the cat, but has to assume the cat is both alive and dead until the box is opened to check for sure. I would explain it further, but I don’t understand any more of it myself. Trust me: It gets even weirder from there.

In general, “Schrodinger’s Cat” has come to represent certain paradoxical situations in which we think things could be either one way or another, but somehow seem to be both at the same time. Like light being both a wave and a particle. And America being both a democracy and a republic.  Or a reality show character leading a presidential field.  You get the idea.

Another such a scenario seems to have arisen at a Brandon High School football game Friday night, at which the marching band was disallowed from performing its halftime show due to the involvement of a religious hymn, “How Great Thou Art.”

On its face, it seems simple: an officially-sanctioned group from Brandon High School intended to play a religious piece of music at a public event, and therefore it was deemed a government endorsement of religion. What followed though, was a community-led response: word got into the stands, and the spectators at the event sang the hymn themselves.

I must admit: at first I felt the ban was a pretty silly decision. A piece of music is just that: a piece of music, especially if it’s played with instruments and no words accompany the performance. Surely in the mind of whoever would be offended, having thousands of spectators sing the lyrics together was worse than the original idea.

And if you’re a student of music in the United States for a year or two, you’re bound to run into religious pieces. That’s just how American and Western culture worked out. Some of the greatest historical composers, even if not Christian, were financed by wealthy and powerful patrons, who more often than not were affiliated with the Church. If you want to avoid music with religious roots, you’ve got to avoid an awful lot of classical, gospel, bluegrass, and southern music in general.

But then I got to thinking about it: A piece of music really can become worshipful.  It becomes religious the moment you have a spiritual experience with it. For example, I used to play trombone in the Famous Maroon Band at Mississippi State, and we traditionally played the “Battle Hymn Chorale” after games, based on “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Maybe to many people the music was a nod to traditional southern culture. But for me, I experienced something else entirely whenever we’d play it. Maybe that’s because I know the unsung lyrics. I still get chills every time it reaches “He has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword.”

I’d wager that for many members of the band, as well as the spectators, playing the hymn was an act of worship itself.  I’d even go as far as to argue that if you’re a Christian and you try to get around the religious thing by saying “How Great Thou Art” is “just a song,” then you’re not doing Christianity right.

So that led me to this: Clearly a government-run high school promoting a religion by leading worship is illegal and should be stopped.  You wouldn’t appreciate government-sponsored worship of another god, so why not extend the same courtesy to your neighbor?

But then again, the only people who would be engaging in the worship would be people who are already religious.

It’s like the old saying about beauty being in the eye of the beholder.  Maybe for a piece of music with no words, religion is in the heart of the believer.

Christian and Sherlock

So take a spectator,  Christian.  Christian is a Christian. Christian hears “How Great Thou Art,” and it’s a worshipful experience. For Christian, the Constitution has just been violated. Because that halftime show was like being in the House of God on Sunday!  Which is a no-no for the government to endorse. But Christian doesn’t mind so much, because Christian is a Christian.

Take another Spectator. Sherlock. Sherlock is not a Christian. Sherlock hears “How Great Thou Art,” and it’s a pretty piece of music, but Sherlock doesn’t know the words, so Sherlock has not had a religious experience. For Sherlock, the Constitution has not been violated, because religion cannot be forced on someone who doesn’t know what’s being communicated.  Sherlock never noticed a thing.

So now Christian and Sherlock start looking around the crowd to ascertain whether the Constitution has in fact been violated. Sherlock is reduced to asking others if they have had a religious experience. “Did you feel something during that, sir?” “Did you, ma’am?” “I have a sneaking suspicion my rights were just violated and I didn’t even know it!”  Meanwhile Christian knows a Constitutional violation has taken place, but only if he explains to Sherlock what the music meant. So Christian stays quiet. Now Christian knows that the Constitution has been violated for his sake, but not for Sherlock, but everybody’s okay, as long as Christian doesn’t admit the beauty of what just happened in his heart. Meanwhile Sherlock cannot know specifically whether the Constitution has been violated or not without knowing whether someone else in the crowd just had a religious experience or not.

So Christian ends up lying to save face for everyone and Sherlock ends up knowing nothing about what really happened.

But that just brings up paradoxes for a different day.

God bless us all, every one!

To Brandon High’s marching band kids: Hang in there, guys!  You have worked hard, and you may be disappointed for not being able to perform, but you’ve made your state proud.  Keep up the great work!

And in another “Schrodinger stance,” I want to thank the community of Brandon for making such a strong stand for your faith, and thank you also “Powers That Be” for doing your best to protect the rights of everyone.  Things don’t always make sense or work out as planned, but “all things work together for good for those who love God.” – Romans 8:28

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