This evening I went to the first rehearsal for the Salisbury Diocesan Choral Festival. I’ve never taken part before, but I’m excited about joining together with (potentially) 300 people to sing in Salisbury Cathedral, Sherborne Abbey and All Saints in Westbury!
I love singing and always have, and I am well aware that the majority of people I meet would agree that they at least like it. But WHY? What is it about singing which makes us enjoy it? There is enough biblical evidence to say that it’s a good way to praise God and I could do on for hours about why it’s used in worship, but it doesn’t answer the question.
To help with this musing here is a quote from Josie Long about music in the Orthodox Church (which is usually chanting and quite dissimilar from other church music):
In his work, Byzantine Sacred Music, Constantine Cavarnos states: “The aim of this music is not to display the fine voices of the chanters, or to entertain the congregation, or to evoke aesthetic experience…The aim of Byzantine sacred music is spiritual. This music is, in the first place, a means of worship and veneration; and in the second place, a means of self-perfection, of eliciting and cultivating man’s higher thoughts and feelings of opposing and eliminating his lower, undesirable ones.
“Its use as a means of worship consists in employing it to glorify God, and to express feelings of supplication, hope, and gratitude, and love to Him. Its use as a means of veneration consists in employing it to honour the Holy Virgin and the rest of the Saints. Its use as a means of cultivating higher thoughts and feelings and opposing the lower ones is inseparable from these. There is not one kind of music employed as a means of worshipping God and honoring the saints, and another kind employed for transforming our inner life, but the same music, while having as its direct aim the former, incidentally leads also to the fulfillment of the latter.”
I like the focus on God here, and I wonder if that’s what we enjoy about music? Not only does it make a beautiful sound that is pleasing to the ear, but it also allows us to really BE with something that is beyond our worries and concerns, our distractions and our thoughts. We can engage with singing (or with music in general) in such a way as we just exist for a little while. We become what we are – human beings – rather than what we often seem to be – human doings! Here is another beautiful quote which really struck me on this, this time from the Catholic Church:
“To sing with the universe means, then, to follow the track of the Logos and to come close to Him. All true human art is an assimilation to the artist, to Christ, to the mind of the Creator.” – Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger