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Through musical intonation human emotion finds a natural expression, and emotion sanctified is worship. Song is the spontaneous language of joyous feeling, and hardly less in its plaintive, minor strains, of a grief-laden spirit; while, in the statelier movement of the chant and anthem, the sentiments of awe, admiration, majesty, terror, have their fit embodiment. The modulation of musical sound is, then, an art of divine authorship, fixed in its elementary principle of God's creative act, taught by lIim instinctively to various families of unintelligent creatures, which have their notes of pleasure and their moan of pain, graduated by the laws of harmony, which are universal-an art which man cannot change at all in the basis of its fundamental requirements, but can only improve and perfect in new combinations and in complete executive effects, by means of his own vocal powers and their insurmountable aids. Music, of all natural things, is divinest. It is this in its source and intention. It comes most nearly to a medium of universal communication, grounded not in arbitrary rules, but in the fitness of truth and beauty.
As a part of Divine worship, the history of music went back to that day-dawn of time when “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” That earliest memorial of its use gives us the clue of its best applications. In the ritual of the Jewish church, under direct appointnient of God, it held a most conspicuous position. “As well the singers as the players on instruments” were there. More critically: “ And singers as well as players shall be heard saying, All my springs are in Thee.” This brings out the thought of the sacred character recognized in these outpourings of melody-every voice, every harp-string, every wind-note of that daily rehearsal repeating the same
sentiment of homage to God and Zion, as the perennial springhead of strength, refreshment, joy. The players embraced all varieties of musical instruments then known-wind instruments of wood and metal ; stringed, to be touched either with the fingers or a bow; instruments of percussion also, as cymbals and drums, and small bells, giving a clear, ringing note. There was no organ, in our meaning, among the Hebrews. What in our version is thus translated was only a tube or trumpet--the fundamental idea, however, of what modern science and taste have elaborated into these church instruments, which more than equal all the harmonic variety and power of the whole temple band. Twenty-four choirs of singers and players, cultivating this art professionally, served by turns in the regular temple worship. Female performers shared these pleasing duties with the males. In the book of Ezra, mention is made of two hundred singing men and
Ch. ii. 65. This was the imposing preparation made to celebrate God's praises in His early church. It was equally an arrangement to meet the conscious wants of devout worshipers seeking a fit medium of expression to the many and diverse emotions which praise the human spirit in the presence of its Maker. The compositions which have found utterance through these harmonies were toned to every key of joy and sorrow. They run through the whole scale of feeling excited by the religious sentiment. The book of Psalms is mostly the compilation of poetical pieces which were chanted with appropriate instrumental accompaniment, in the daily and Sabbatic services. Its excellence then as now, was in its wondrous adaptation to man's spiritual states. Hence, the obvious propriety of retaining, in our worship, much of this part of the Holy Scripture, in the form of sentences to be musically or otherwise recited, and in the versions of its devouter sections to be sung. The musical expression of varying religious emotions thus embodied, is as much demanded, is as thoroughly in keeping with the needs, the sympathies of God's worship, now as then. It is an error to suppose that the IIebrew singing and instru
mentation was a kind of sensuous concession to a childish, unintellectual age—a plaything, a darling exhibition, by which to entice the people to religious observances, which is all rather beneath the dignity of our cultnre. “Our culture," forsooth! The less said of this in devout directions, the better.
Passing to the Christian church, we find a distinct recognition of music as a part of its devotional service. St. Paul puts the point in a very emphatic light: “I will pray with the Spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also. I will sing with the Spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also." 1 Cor. xiv. 15. These two parts of worship seem here to be put on an equal footing as modes of expressing devout sentiment, as alike sacred in their nature and acceptable to the Lord. We are thus instructed as to the solemnity of the act of Christian praise—a fact which bears suggestively upon the methods in which it is offered. What would be unbecoming in the utterance of public prayer, would be unbecoming in the utterance of public praise, due allowance being made for the necessary unlikeness between the two acts. One or two other texts will aid us further here. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom ; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace
ein your hearts to the Lord.” Col. iii. 16: Which is almost a literal transcript of the injunction to the Ephesians (v. 18-19.) “ Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to yourselves" (not so, says Ellicott, but “ speaking to one another, tautois being used for ahlrhois," as in the text to the Colossians just quoted)“ in psalms and hymns and songs—singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord,” Psalms would seem to mean chiefly those of the Old Testament, but also other pieces of the same general structure. Hymns, more specifically, are songs of praise to Christ and to God. Spiritual songs take in the additional idea of improvisations under the immediate influence of the Divine Spirit, adopovolɛ év revetllatı; verse 18, supra. This is Ellicott's resume of the best critics on this classification. It should be observed that in these directions for Christian praise, the making melody is in the heart to the
Lord, and not with the lips merely to the congregation; the singing is with grace in the heart to the Lord, and not merely with artistic gracefulness, according to the canons of musical criticism. When the apostle writes of singing “with the understanding ” as well as the spirit, he doubtless means to enjoin a rational, intelligible, and correct way of performing this service. The idea points outward to the edification of the hearer through his understanding also of what is sung and said, and is opposed to the confusion of speaking with unknown tongues without an interpreter of their meaning; see the context. Thus would the apostle sing as well as pray -in the Spirit, as responsive to the Holy Spirit's movements in and upon the soul, with the understanding, as attending to surrounding objects and interests which demand consideration. Cf. Bengel, in loco. This explanation removes the word from the exclusive sphere of an understanding of the musical art by the performers; incorporating with this the practical thought of aiding the hearer's devotions by his being placed in intelligible communication with this part of Christian service. Hence, an utter condemnation of the fashion of singing what no one but a musical expert can comprehend, in our church services, and also, of so obscuring the language of song by defective vocalization as to turn the whole text virtually into a foreign tongue.
How the primitive congregations of believers carried out these apostolic directions is worthy a passing remark. Coleman, in his Christian Antiquities, gives a page or two to the topic. The substance of it is that, following the Jewish tice, the churches appointed singers and choristers to have in special charge this branch of worship, but to guide and regnlate it only so as to save it from abuse, not by any means to monopolize its performance. For Bingham affirms that, from the first Christian age, for several centuries, the whole body of worshipers united in singing under the direction of the
canonical singers," as these leaders were called who went up into a music gallery and sung from a book, the people joining the praise. This early praise was vocal, for the most part, as
the circumstances of those persecuted and obscure congregations would naturally make necessary.
With us, public praise finds, in the almost exhaustless compass of the organ, its best mechanical helps, when handled skilfully, and with the right inward inspiration. It would be a great improvement on our present style of using this instrument, if the ambitious family of preludes, interludes, and postludes could be expelled, mostly, if not wholly from the service. But, with all such desirable reforms secured, the main dependence of this department of worship must be upon the still better organ of the human voice, for which mechanical art can supply no proper substitute. The true scriptural conception of church music requires also, as we have seen, that it be personally shared by as large a number in the assembly as is practicable, each uttering, as far as may be, the voice of adoration and thanksgiving. Hence, were it possible to accomplish it, the introduction of congregational singing into our churches would most fully meet the intention of this exercise. The difficulties in the way of this are very serious, perhaps quite indispensable. It demands a cultivation of music beyond the disposition, if not the ability of most of our congregations. It is much more common among the nonliturgied denominations of Europe, and of Europeans in our own country, than with us. But even those of them who make music a branch of common, scientific education, do not go much beyond a monotonous singing in melody, in their religious assemblies. It would be found impracticable, it is presumed, to carry singing in harmony, by a numerous audience, beyoud the use of a very few tunes. Liturgical churches have less difficulty with their simpler chantings and responses. It is an open question whether we could not reform our music very profitably in the same direction. The distance between a Te Deum Laudamus" and a quartette fantasia, in the house of God, is so wide, one might say, so awful, that to gain the privilege of joining in the one and escaping the other, one could almost wish that he had lived or worshiped in the days of Ambrose or Gregory. The next best thing seems to be a