Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Music Is An Extension Of Our Praise

Orange Standard Article 3 ~ March 2009

Have you bought your copy of Canon Long's collected Orange Standard pieces "Think on these things"? This month's article is an extract from the book, which is available at £4.00 plus postage from Schomberg House.

"Express your joy in singing among yourselves psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making music in your hearts for the ears of God."
Ephesians 5:19.

Integral to the services of the Christian church is the worship of God, and the ministry of the Word and the Sacraments. Whether the services are formal, liturgical, or spontaneous, extemporary, these are essential to them. Integral, too, to the services of the church are its psalms, hymns, spiritual songs and instrumental music. Varied in form, style, quality and quantity they play a large part in the public worship of Christians. In many churches their role is becoming more and more apparent and significant. There is the recognition that most people have an inbuilt love of music and song that in them their feelings and emotions are most adequately expressed. It is much easier to be with others in music and song than to join them in prayers, sermons and ceremonies in church. This because people often "speak with the head and sing with the heart."

Even those with a minimal interest in religion find it easy to use the church's music and song in the crises of their lives.

They are the natural expression of feelings and emotions; joy and sorrow; hope and expectation; devotion and commitment.

Christian enthusiasm is most readily expressed in music and song; music beyond words and words singable and meaningful. "A song will outlive all sermons in the memory."

There is always need for balance in the services of the church, the parts are dependent on one another, enhancing one another. The blend of prayer and praise, scripture and sermon is necessary when there is devotion to God in worship and a receptive sharing in the learning process by scripture and sermon by the people of God.

Charles Kingsley has a warning for anyone who elevates singing over everything else: "Do not fancy, as too many do, that thou canst praise God by singing hymns to Him in church once a week and disobeying Him all the week long. He asks of thee works as well as words; and more, He asks of works first and words after."

The warning noted there is reason to pay compliment to those whose music and song contributes so much to the deepening of the spiritual lives of believers and for bringing others to faith in Christ. There is reward for the composers and authors whose works receive the highest commendation by constant use. Some of them are well known names whose lives have inspired us for the depth of their commitment to Christ and the variety of their experiences before and after the faith caught hold of them.

They were men and women inspired to say in music and song what was necessary to speak for God to people and people to God. "Glorious the song, when God is the theme."

As we think of the use of music and song we may show preferences, for the quality and quantity is variable in the extreme. Describe it as you will the choices are numerous and yet there is much music and song which have universal approval and frequent use.

The editors and compilers of the 2003 published Church of Ireland hymnbook knew that and while they managed to include many favourites there were omissions which displeased some. They had to make room for new composers and authors whose work merited inclusion. Time will tell as to its durability. What is important is the acceptance that the music and song of the church must reflect the thinking of people in a world of rapid change, the effects of new experiences and discoveries in the many fields of human endeavour, while retaining the fundamentals of the Christian faith described in the music and song of other ages.

It is also the reminder that no age has a monopoly of talent and new people are emerging all the time with words and music applicable to where and how people live.

We have preferences in our choices of what we hear and sing in church. Most of us are likely to agree on the need for clarity, articulation, in sound and voice. We want to easily recognise what is being played or sung. We have sympathy for someone who hoped that God knew what a soloist was singing for he did not.

It must be of the essence of good music and song that there is no need for anyone to complain about its audibility clarity and intelligibility. Having said this we have to add that everyone should be encouraged to sing in the congregation. Most people can sing. Few things are more impressive about church than Christians singing together in response to the psalmist, "Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord".

Rev. Canon Dr. S.E. Long