Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Why our music should (generally) be simple enough for everyone to sing

An issue I have with some of the more traditionally-minded church music bloggers is their underlying assumption that the only music which is "good enough" for church is music which is beautiful, and expertly performed - meaning by a well trained choir, not an untrained assembly.

The great shift in music in the Catholic church after Vatican II was, as much as anything, a rejection of this idea, and a return to more scriptural approaches to the place music in public worship.

But what drives this fundamental sense that singing during liturgy is the right thing for everyone to be doing.   Paul's claimed quote that "when you sing, you pray twice" is hackneyed - and insulting to those who do not sing.    But still, there is a truth there - where does it come from?

My answer is that firstly, we know that Jesus was a Jew:   he sang during temple worship, and he sang at the Last Supper, when Eucharist as we know it was instituted.    ref:

Second, there's a lot of scriptural support:  Singing is a fundamental worship behaviour, and is about about heart:  in Ephesians 5, Paul tells the believers to be
"addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,"
Thirdly, tradition.   If you can get past the motherhood-and-apple-pie statements about the glorious days of church music prior to VII, you'll find out that even then, most masses were "low" - ie had no singing, or only a few hymns.   Certainly cathedrals and major churches had programmes that delivered expertly-executed chant - but they were the exception.   Your average parish organist in SmallTownville didn't stand a chance of delivering this sort of programme, then as now.

So that's the first stages of an analysis:  Jesus behaviour, scripture and tradition.

But what about lived experience today?

This is a lot more subjective, of course, but still gives us some clues about the importance of active participation.

Singing helps us to remember.    Very few people can remember the exact words of the gospel reading they heard last Sunday and at least once every three years since they've been going to Mass, or to a church with lectionary based services.   But most have no difficultly remembering at least some words of the hymns they sang.  That's why God, in Deuteronomy, told Moses to
"write this song and teach it to the people of Israel - put it in their mouths" 
not the mouths of the choir or music team!   Most human beings find that what is in their mouth stays in their mind - so what better way to to get Christian teaching in people's mind than by asking them to sing about it.

Music expresses emotion - and reaching people at heart-level is an essential part of public worship.

Singing together unites us


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