Martin Luther once said, “Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.” He insisted on a prominent role of music in the education of children—especially those training to be pastors. As we see in the time of J.S. Bach, the modern Enlightenment ideals began the erosion of music education in favor of more “academic” subjects.
Ignorance of the basic elements of music is comparable to illiteracy. Not being able to read seriously hampers one’s ability to read Scripture for oneself; not being able to read music hinders one’s ability to worship.
Worship serves to bind a group of people into a community. Utilizing music that can be sung in parts serves as a valuable tool to this end and implies some knowledge of music and its mechanics. Part singing leaves little room for individual self expression, improvisation, or selfishness and thus encourages the growth of the covenantal community by removing the focus from self and directing it to God. Part singing encourages a sense of belonging, community and reliance.
Belonging is encouraged by the very necessity of each of the harmonic parts being sung. The individual has the sense of being an integral component of something beyond just their voice part. There exists the sense of being needed.
Community is developed in the need to incorporate individual singing with the other parts. It develops an awareness of what the other members of the community are singing as well as building bonds between the parts. Reliance on one another contributes greatly to the sense of community.
Reliance is evident in the need to depend upon the surrounding people as the individual parts are sung. This is apparent when physically divided into voice parts and surrounded by people singing the same notes or when standing next to a different voice part and relying on one another for pitch, intonation, and entrances.
From the time of David, music has played a prominent role in the worship of God. Participation in that worship is crucial for the health of the Church. Too often we are “worshiped at” as opposed to being led in corporate worship.
As G.K. Chesterton wrote in Heretics, “But if we look at the progress of our scientific civilization we see a gradual increase everywhere of the specialist over the popular function. Once men sang together round a table in chorus; now one man sings alone, for the absurd reason that he can sing better. If scientific civilization goes on (which is most improbable) only one man will laugh, because he can laugh better than the rest.”
We pay people to sing for us, act for us, play sports for us, read for us, and we move farther and farther to the sidelines of life. Educating the people of God in how to sing will encourage the return to the center of worship life with greater understanding and ability in offering our best gifts to the Lord.
Music is the art of the prophets and the gift of God. —Martin Luther