Attending church, a stranger is struck by the fact that here, alone in his experience, adults sing. Not only do they enjoy singing but have ceremonies about singing. So unique is a group of people singing in Church that without the congregational singing Australians would never learn to sing.
People will sit as an audience and listen to others sing. But when they go to the cinema they do not join in singing. There may be chants at football matches but apart from the chapel attending soccer fans of the UK, the spectators do not sing. Even the singing of the National Anthem at sporting occasions becomes a drunken shouting interspersed by jeers and cheers. Yet at church we sing. We sing in worship, at weddings, at funerals, at celebrations, at Easter, at Christmas, in our homes, our groups and our schools - we sing at all the great Christian festivals. Singing is integral to Christian worship. Why?
A song is a piece of music performed by a single voice, with or without instruments. If more than one person is involved in the singing, then it is referred to as a duet, trio, quartet, ensemble, choir, chorus and so on. Music heightens the effect of the words allowing them to be projected with more passion than in speech alone. Wordy songs may be epics telling stories of events. Folk songs are usually sung by untrained people who sing songs related to their work or experiences. Art songs are carefully taught and conform to a strict interpretation and virtuoso performance. Popular songs are in between with greater emphasis being placed in the last half century to the rhythm and accompaniment.
It is not easy for Australian singers to sing and be recorded for an album. Most weeks I receive at least one tape from an aspiring singer who wants to audition to sing on our television programs. Production costs can vary but most albums cost about $25,000. Imagine how many records an artist must sell to recoup that cost. Mainstream Aussie artists such as INXS, Midnight Oil, and Jimmy Barnes produced albums in '93 that failed to recoup their budgets. Jimmy Barnes, one of Australia's best selling singers was put into receivership.
1. SINGING IN THE BIBLE.
The Development of Hebrew Music. The history of Hebrew music goes back to the first person who heard rhythm as he beat a stick. As people began to realise they could make music, they created more complex instruments. David invented a number of instruments, and formed a chorus of 4,000 to offer praises to the Lord "with the instruments which I made to praise" (1 Chron. 23:5). David composed songs, such as his lament over the death of Saul and Jonathan and most of our present Psalms.
The Influence of Pagan Music. Israel was at a geographical crossroads and was exposed to ideas and customs from other parts of the world (Gen. 37:25), including musical style. Some Israeli men married foreign wives whose customs crept into Hebrew lifestyle. Solomon married an Egyptian woman whose dowry included 1,000 musical instruments. She brought musicians with her to play those instruments in the Egyptian way. Amos 6:5 condemned those who used foreign musical styles in worship "who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp".
Of course, there were times when the soothing strains of David's lyre refreshed a tormented Saul (1 Sam. 16:23). Music was an important part of everyday life. Merrymaking, weddings, and funerals were not complete without music. Even war relied on music, since special instruments sounded the call to battle and the Hebrews developed the shophar, an instrument like a trumpet with piercing tones (Exod. 32:17-18). Merrymaking and frivolity called for the light, happy tones of pipes or flutes (Judges 11:34-35; Matt. 9:23-24; Luke 15:23-25).
The Use of Music in Worship. Music served as an accompaniment to ritual. Temple music consisted of singers and an orchestra. The singers and musicians could come only from the males of certain families.
David established singing and music as part of worship (1 Chron 15:16) "David told the leaders of the Levites to appoint their brothers as singers to sing joyful songs, accompanied by musical instruments: lyres, harps and cymbals." Beyond formal worship within the temple, music was a part of other religious activities. Instruments not allowed in the temple were played at feast days. Often the feast began with a musical proclamation.
Then came music, singing, and even dancing were part of the celebration and women singers and musicians were allowed to participate. The melodies of the Psalms and other story songs were well-known in their time, and were probably sung in verses by choirs. It is clear that the Hebrews came to consider the story songs a part of their worship whose everyday life was religiously ordered. The Psalms is really a book of religious hymns.
David believed even the universe sings. When David set up the Ark of the Covenant in his new capital Jerusalem, he composed a hymn of praise: (1 Chron 16:31-34) "Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let them say among the nations, "The LORD reigns!" 32 Let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them! 33 Then the trees of the forest will sing, they will sing for joy before the LORD." Job quoted God as saying (38:1-10) "The morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?"
Believers were encouraged to sing to God. David wrote hymns called Psalms and tunes. He invented instruments and used the court resources to develop a Temple orchestra. (96:1) "Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth."
Sometimes in difficult situations it was hard to sing. The captive Hebrew slaves were depressed thinking of their loss of freedom, their exile into a foreign land, and their removal from worship and their homeland: (137:3) "By the rivers of Babylon our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!" How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?"
Christians are encouraged to sing. When Paul and Silas were thrown in the jail at Philippi, we read: Acts 16:25 "About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them." The early Christians sang even when persecuted, such was their inner joy. Paul advised: (Eph 5:19) "Speak to one another with music in your heart to the Lord." (Col 3:16)
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God." James (5:13) advised "Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise." John in the Revelation described Heaven with believers singing (5:12) "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!" The Bible sings! God is a singing God.
2. THE CHURCH ENCOURAGED SINGING.
Many hymns in the ancient Church were written to spread teaching. During the fourth and fifth centuries, the liturgy was developing along a more elaborate Roman and Byzantine style. Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, known as the "father of hymnody in the Western church" developed a large body of church music based on four scales that became known as the Ambrosian chant. Two centuries later, Gregory the Great added four more scales to the Ambrosian system, creating the Gregorian chant called "the greatest revolution in the history of singing." It spread rapidly throughout the entire West and gave a beauty, dignity, and solemnity to the liturgy. CD's of Gregorian Chants last year topped the charts.
In the Medieval Church, singing became more sophisticated in the chant and hymns, including hymns still used today: Theodulph of Orleans wrote, "All Glory, Laud, and Honour"; Bernard of Clairvaux, "Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee" and "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded".
The Protestant Reformation argued Worship belonged to the whole congregation not just priests. The earliest Protestant hymnbooks were published by the Moravians in 1501. Martin Luther used their hymns in his hymnbook. Luther's influence on music in worship was revolutionary. He was well trained in music and had the gift of writing clearly and creating a music close to the hearts of the common people. His work was so effective that one of his enemies wrote, "Luther's songs have damned more souls than all his books and speeches." John Calvin restored psalm singing. For him hymns were man-made, whereas the psalms were the inspired Word of God.
The Evangelical Revival had a profound effect in Christian singing. Isaac Watts reacted against the limited use of psalm singing, which he believed had grown cold and lifeless. He wrote more than six hundred hymns, the eighteenth century became the first age of hymn singing in England. John and Charles Wesley, were two of the most prolific hymn writers of all time writing 10,000 hymns. They sang of personal experience and evangelism. The subjective experience is seen in the 19th century gospel songs by writers such as Fanny Crosby. Well-known gospel songs include "Just As I Am Without One Plea" (Charlotte Elliott), "Take My life and Let It Be" (Frances Ridley Havergal), and "Jesus Loves Me, This I Know" (Anna B. Warner).
The Twentieth Century has seen strong theological hymns such as "God of grace and God of Glory" (Harry Emmerson Fosdick) and light "Scripture in Song" choruses of the last two decades. These need spontaneity in worship.
3. THE BARBERSHOP QUARTET.
Barbershop quartet singing consisting of unaccompanied male singing, with three voices harmonising to the melody of a fourth voice. The emphasis is on close, carefully arranged harmony, synchronisation of word sounds, and the use of such devices as variation of tempo, volume level, diction, colour, and phrasing. Although barbershop quartet singing is associated with the United States, its origins (in the 19th century) are obscure: it may date from an era when American barbershops formed social and musical centres for a neighbourhood's males, or it may refer to the British expression "barber's music," denoting an extemporised performance by patrons waiting to be shaved and referring to a barber's traditional role as a musician.
The modern revival began when 26 men attended a first meeting and songfest at the Tulsa Club in Tulsa, Okla., on April 11, 1938. The society flourished, and by today there are more than 800 chapters with more than 38,000 members. More than 700 men join in the musical fraternity here in Australia. World wide, the "Sweet Adelines" add to the marvel of harmony.
Our God is a God who sings and who loves singing. So many of us began in church and our worship today is a natural extension of the pleasure we have in harmonising together. There is a rich tradition among people who love to sing. We sing our faith, and our faith is in our singing. Without faith this world would be duller, more despairing. But those who sing, are they who live with hope. Because our God is a God who sings.
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