Trevor Hart on church music

Hymn

‘Music has always been a central feature of Christian worship, and it’s worth asking why that might be. After all, there’s no very obvious reason why God should take pleasure (if indeed he does!) in the sound of voices and pipe organ or whatever other instruments we might use. We’re told in the Bible that in the temple there were cymbals and drums and all sorts of percussive music accompanying and complementing the singing, which isn’t very Anglican, but sounds like quite a lot of fun! But why music at all? Why not praise God in some altogether more quiet and sedate fashion?

I suspect the answer has as much to do with us as with God. Musical settings of words, for instance, transform the words, seeming to get more meaning out of them than simply saying them. And, typically, we also find words that are sung regularly quite easy to remember (often we’re still humming the tune and singing along in our head later in the day). So, what we sing together gets ingrained, and shapes the substance of our faith. That’s one reason why I am quite careful about our choice of hymns in church. Singing bad theology can be dangerous to our spiritual health!’

– Trevor Hart, ‘A letter from “The Rectory”’, The NET: The magazine of Saint Andrew’s Church, St. Andrews, May 2014, 23.

6 thoughts on “Trevor Hart on church music

  1. Haha- that reminds me of what Benedick grumped (in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’): “Now, divine air! Now is his soul ravished. Is it not strange that sheeps’ guts should hale souls out of men’s bodies?”
    Plucking sheep guts is a mighty powerful thing- especially with accompanying lyrics!

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  2. the great mystery of the protestant church is why it has been so inattentive to the multi-sensory input of the created cosmos and placed all its bets so naively on the single technology of spoken and written language, as if that correlated directly with the ‘Word of God’ which the reformers in particular wished to be immersed in. Meanwhile, all other senses, even the different kind of intelligence that is catalysed in music, are left unexamined, unexplored while we strain endlessly at verbal gnats.

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  3. Beth, what “protestant church” are you talking about? The magesterial reformers in the Lutheran and Reformed traditions put emphasis on worship in word and sacrament, which is not only heard, but seen, smelled, touched, and tasted. Moreover, both in Wittenburg and Geneva, music was part of their reforms. Luther wrote many hymns, and Calvin commissioned a new translation of the psalms and tunes. Singing was part of the word: God spoke to the people in scripture and preaching, and the people spoke to God in prayer and song. Perhaps you mean modern day “evangelicals”, which perhaps in my understanding aren’t really protestants? Do tell. Thanks.

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