Silent Meditation:

Music cleanses the understanding; inspires it, and lifts it into a realm which it would not reach if it were left to itself.  ~ Henry Ward Beecher (1813 - 1887) American Congregational clergyman, religious writer and reformer

Quotations for Music Appreciation Sunday

"A person does not hear sound only through the ears; he hears sound through every pore of his body.
It permeates the entire being, and according to its particular influence either slows or quickens the rhythm of the blood circulation; it either wakens or soothes the nervous system. It arouses a person to greater passions or it calms him by bringing him peace. According to the sound and its influence a certain effect is produced. Sound becomes visible in the form of radiance. This shows that the same energy which goes into the form of sound before being visible is absorbed by the physical body.  In that way the physical body recuperates and becomes charged with new magnetism."
~ from 'Mysticism of Sound' by Hazrat Inayat Khan ~

Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything."    ~ Plato, Ancient Greek Philosopher He was the world's most influential philosopher. 428 BC-348 BC ~

Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.”

~Confucius, (China's most famous teacher, philosopher, and political theorist, 551-479 BC)~


Music is the universal language of mankind.”

~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, (the most popular American Poet in the 19th century, 1807-1882)~


The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.

~Johann Sebastian Bach,  (German Composer and Musician. 1685-1750)~


The Rev. Dianne O’Connell

First Congregational Church

June 5, 2011


“And God Created … Music!”

"Music does bring people together.
It allows us to experience the same emotions.
People everywhere are the same in heart and spirit.
No matter what language we speak, what color we are,
the form of our politics or the expression of our love

and our faith, music proves: We are the same."
                                                                ~ John Denver ~

I’m not so sure that John Denver ever served on his church’s Committee on Music.  I like to believe that John has it right – music is a unifying force, speaks to us across all sorts of other boundaries – but, let’s face facts, folks, ask any parent or teenager living in the same house – music can just as easily define us and divide us, as it can bring us together.

I’m not going to wade into the church Music War debate this morning, or at least not much.  We all know that for many of us words are just words, but Music – be it vocal or instrumental -- is the Real Worship Experience on a Sunday morning.  And we are taking a moment to honor this phenomenon through honoring our wonderful and very versatile Music Department this morning.

Music has always been an important component of worship – from the shaman’s first rattle, to the Old Testament tambourines and harps and lyres. The musicians themselves were so important in Old Testament times that King David provides an entire list of the Temple Musicians by name, and heritage, in I Chronicles 6, verses 31 through 46.  Mercifully, I will not read the passage, but there seems to be about twenty-five primary musicians listed along with their sons and associates.

These men were in charge of the music at the House of the Lord and, we‘re told, they performed their duties according to a set of regulations laid down for them.  It would have been interesting to sit in on the music committee meeting where those music regulations were hammered out. But, alas, we don’t have that particular document.

We do know that by the time Psalm 150 was written the Hebrew people were worshipping with trumpets, harps, lyres, tambourines, strings, flutes, and cymbals.  There was a lot of dancing, as well. 

Jumping ahead a few thousand years, let’s check out the early Christians. Apparently, trumpets and cymbals were out, and doleful hymn-singing was in. By the sixth century AD, Saint Benedict had founded the Benedictine Order of monks and was looking for Latin texts to set to the tune of the basic Benedictine chant.  

At the time of the Reformation – ten centuries later – the Protestant reformers insisted upon hymns which could be understood and sung by the people and demanded that the new hymns have lyrics with a strong scriptural basis.  They livened up the beat a bit, too. John Calvin expanded the one-note chant to four. That was that.  He had four favorite notes and those were the ones he used over and over.

The Reformation coincided with the world-shaking introduction of printing and this gave church-goers access to many hymns. Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) played a great role in hymn development – not only was he a radical theologian, he was also a fine musician with a deep knowledge of German folksong.

It was the great Isaac Watts (1674 – 1748) who began the reform of congregational singing in England. He wrote many fine hymns - Joy to the World and O God our help in ages past are examples - and started from the principle that texts should express the religious feelings of the people. This was a total turnaround from the previously-held view that they should only be scripturally based!

It was the Wesley brothers, John and Charles, the founders Methodism, who insisted that hymns, both words and music, should be written to stir the congregation, re-enforce its religious emotions and play on the "feel good" factor.

The Wesleys made hymns the central feature of Methodist worship, and before long many people began to admire the Methodists for their hearty and fervent singing. The qualities of sincerity and conviction were a vital part of the Wesley approach and congregations responded with vigor and enthusiasm.

Another great milestone was the publication in 1861 of Hymns Ancient and Modern. Its enlightened committee insisted that the book should reflect the very best of the many traditions of hymnody. It was an amazing success – sales reached 500,000 annually (and this was at a time when many people couldn’t read or write) and by 1912 it had sold a staggering sixty million copies – it’s still in print today!

Hymns mean a great deal to many people. They remember fondly those they learned in childhood and the ones associated with particular family events or great occasions. Since the end of the 19th Century there's been an explosion in hymn-writing, but the traditional hymns, written by the end of the Victorian era, are still the favorites of many worshippers.

Defining church music becomes the challenge. A traditionalist would say it always involves a large choir, accompanied by a thundering pipe organ performing "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." Those of a more contemporary bent would argue quite differently.

For many people caught up in the worship wars, the history of church music is presumed to look like this: Generation A comes to faith, grows up, and introduces its music into the worship of the church, bringing fresh vigor and new life to the tired and outdated tunes that preceded them.  Then Generation B comes to faith, grows up, and introduces its music into the worship of the church, bringing fresh vigor and new life to the tired and outdated tunes of Generation A, who have in the meantime become a bunch of obstructionist old geezers. Then, of course, comes along Generation C to save the day.

It is assumed that each generation’s music is the popular music of its youth, and it is assumed that this pattern has gone on since living memory, or at least since Pentecost.

Both of these assumptions are not necessasrily true. In truth, the pattern is only about 200 years old.  For the preceding 1800 years, church music changed very little. That, by the way, doesn’t make it bad.  In fact, it indicates some stability and tradition – even truths, if you will – still very much meaningful today.

In C. S. Lewis’ words, “Every age has its own outlook. It is especially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds… by reading old books.” And listening to and singing old music. 

But, as someone else has said: “Musicians can get pretty much trapped in their own century.”  Can’t we all?

So what is my point on this Music Appreciation Sunday? Well, for one thing, I know we have a variety of musical worship tastes represented in our congregation.  We have a wonderfully talented music team with resources spanning many centuries. I know that each pastor, myself included, has brought a different emphasis to hymns selected for each Sunday and that you are about to experience another musical transition with the arrival of Rev. Blair next month.

Just as I believe God created many kinds of people and loves each one of them, I feel pretty certain God created all kinds of music – and responds to the heartfelt emotion of each note. 

Plato said 350 years before Christ: “Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.

Johann Sebastian Bach said nearly two thousand years later: “The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.

Congregational minister Henry Ward Beecher said  a couple hundred years after that: “Music cleanses the understanding; inspires it, and lifts it into a realm which it would not reach if it were left to itself.”

We are Christians; the pilgrim citizens of the New Jerusalem.  We are a singing priesthood.  We, of all people, should not be trapped in any one century, musically or otherwise. My prayer for you, and for me, is that we continue to respond in worship and in gratitude to the gifts of our God through a variety of music which speaks to each of us, from those who secretly yearn for the tones of a Gregorian Chant to the sounds that will enchant little Zoey Anastasia in the years to come.  Amen.

Please join me in Hymn No. 75


As Paul wrote to the Ephesians:

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 Christ.  Amen.

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