LEADERTIMES WEEKEND RELIGION ARTICLE FOR
August 29, 2015 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 813-835-0129
Spending time with two talented musicians is always a refreshing experience, especially when they are your daughter and your son-in-law. Last evening I attended a concert at the Great Auditorium at Ocean Grove on the Jersey Shore. Ocean Grove is only a ten minute drive from the parsonage of Calvary Baptist Church in Belmar which my daughter pastors. They were doing a program which included some Mendelssohn, some Vivaldi and some Bernstein. Grace was singing soprano in the some one hundred voice choir. They were accompanied by a full orchestra and the Great Auditorium organ with its nine hundred pipes. I’ll return to the music later.
Music has always been an integral part of a genuine relationship with God. The book of Psalms is a hymn book. The Apostle Paul gives a word of encouragement to the church at Ephesus. “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus the Messiah.” To the Corinthians he advises, “I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind. If you are praising God with your spirit, how can one who finds himself among those who do not understand say ‘Amen’ (That is true).”
Most music has at least three dimensions – words, melody and rhythm. Christian music has always placed the priority on the words, or the message the music is to carry. The Apostle Paul was keenly aware of this when he advised that we are to sing with the mind as well as the spirit. Rhythm, in most of our hymns, is acutely connected with the lyrics of the songs. You might try on Sunday as you sing to notice where the downbeat comes in relation to the lyrics. In most cases the down beat will fall on the important words in the text. The music is composed to accent the message.
This brings me back to Mendelssohn, Vivaldi, and Bernstein. In the program the music was all sacred. Mendelssohn was represented by his rendition of “Lord, Grant us Peace.” Vivaldi’s “Gloria RV589” is a collection of prayers of praise. Bernstein’s“Chichester Psalms” is a musical presentation of selected Psalmsin Hebrew. All of these presentations start with the words of Scripture and seek to present them in a musical setting appropriate to their message.
Ocean Grove was the home of Fanny Crosby (1820 – 1915) who wrote thousands of evangelical Christian hymns. Many musicians visited Ocean Grove and many still do. Some of them wrote the music which accompanies the hymns we love to sing. However, it is notable that Fanny Crosby wrote the words and not the music. When we sing “Tell Me the Story of Jesus” we sing Fanny Crosby’s poetry. The musicis written by John R. Sweeny (1837 – 1899).
How many times have you heard the song leader say, “Now pay attention to the words you are singing?” Great religious music is created when the composer pays attention to the words. There is no better illustration of this than Handle’s “Messiah.” Every word of the oratorio was lifted from the text of Scripture and affectionately set to music that lifts up the words of the sacred text.
The Apostle again reminds us – “I will sing with the spirit, but I will also sing with my mind.” Making melody in my heart to the Lord involves our total being.
(BillScarle can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org) END-whs