Reflection – Musical influence
In this modern world of radio, podcast, and Spotify we can associate music easily with events in our lives. Sometimes the way we store and listen to music says something about us too (usually age): do you have CDs, vinyl records or cassette tapes? Music is so interwoven in the rhythm of our lives. Can you recall your first favourite popular song? I bet you can, and also where you were and who you were with at the time.
We have no idea what early Christian music was like, for there was no musical notation, and it was only in the eleventh century that an Italian monk, Guido D’Arezzo, began to develop a way of placing signs on parallel lines, so indicating pitch by location. Later a method of indicating duration of each note was developed. All this sounds so primitive but it was the beginning of that wonderful, vast and life-enhancing river of talent that we call music.
Church music has an interesting relationship to music in the secular world. Early Christians were aware of the religious music of paganism, such as that of weddings and funerals, and took steps to distance themselves from any association. Later, some music genres became associated with patterns of behaviour that shocked people and made them judgemental. The Beetles were banned in South Africa for years because (was it John Lennon?) said they were better known than Jesus Christ.
Music in church these days is often a mix of sacred and old, secular and new. The soaring notes of Mendelssohn’s Wedding March points one immediately to the climax of a thousand romances, and hearing a rendition of ‘All things bright and beautiful instantly makes me think of little children and lambs and green grassy fields, or babies at the baptismal font. The music is so diverse at funerals these days if you were to ask me which I have heard the most it will be two secular songs, ‘We’ll meet again’ and ‘Unforgettable’.
Perhaps the best answer I can suggest to having secular music in church comes from Cliff Richard in his song from 1998:
Why should the devil have all the good music
There’s nothing wrong with what we play
‘Cause Jesus is the Rock and He rolled my blues away
Roll ’em away now!
I ain’t knocking the hymns
Just give me a song that has a beat
No I ain’t knocking the hymns
Give me a song that moves my feet.
God has given us voice and rhythm to express ourselves in sound and movement; we see it occur naturally in children when they play. They eagerly copy song and dance, and create their own variations, just as we did before we became older and crowded with inhibitions. We are unable to sing in church for now, but let’s not stifle those songs coming to mind.
Today’s project, then: read Psalm 100, then enjoy some of the songs by your favourite artist. It can lift one’s mood marvellously. I’m off to listen to Barbara Streisand now; and you?
May you enjoy the blessings of sunshine, warmth, and good music today.