Musical Appreciation Sunday caused me to reflect a little on the role that music plays in supporting religious services. I hope it is not too presumptuous of a non-musician to comment on music! I welcome any comments.
At an Orthodox church that I visited in Greece a few years ago, some local men chanted together throughout the service. There was no singing per se, nor instrumental accompaniment. One man might join the group, another might leave; the chanting was always evolving and remarkably seamless. Not understanding a word, I just sat under the icons in the candlelight and incense and listened and breathed and admired. The chanting created a calming backdrop to a fairly intense sensory experience. The overall effect was one of heightened spirituality, even mysticism.
A visit to a Christian church in rural West Africa was also a sensory feast. The choir's smocks were bright pink and they sang rousing, gospel-type songs of faith and celebration. I confess to a little pew dancing! The kinship I felt to complete strangers as we sang together in the heat of that vibrant little church was wondrous. I experienced the music that day as an offer of joyous salvation. Sermon, what sermon? It was all about the music for me.
In March I attended my daughter's church in British Columbia. The venue was humble and this small but diverse community managed without a choir or organ. There was a piano, though, and the pianist led us through some popular folk songs. As I stood with my daughter to sing those simple tunes, it occurred to me that the songs' mildly counter-culture messages had been well chosen to support the sermon. The officiant had spoken of non-traditional ways by which we could seek and experience spirituality. One answer, my friends, is "Blowin’ in the Wind", but all of the folk songs underlined the sermon very well.
I once attended a service at a large evangelical church that had a flourishing young adult group. On the day that I visited, some young guitarists from the congregation were performing. Their modern Christian rock music was unfamiliar to me, but I sang along anyway, following the words that they had projected on a screen. Obviously enjoying themselves, this cohort seemed firmly connected to their church through music. Their pleasure and enthusiasm were lovely to see.
We at St. Andrew’s are truly blessed to have our Director of Music, our Guilbault-Thérien organ and our Choir to lead us in traditional hymns. We enjoy regular performances from our St. Andrew’s Ringers and our Kids’ Choir, as well as an occasional pianist, flautist, trumpeter and guest choir (such as today's adorable First Baptist Children's Choir).
Our hymns of course reflect the overall direction of the sermon but, at a deeper level, all the music we are privileged to experience in a place of such beauty elevates and inspires us, making us even more receptive to God’s word. A heartfelt thank you to all of our musicians and their leaders. You lift us up.