The George Bragg Library

Why Music is Used in Worship
(A Consideration by George Bragg)
Holy Family Choirmaster
Texas Boys Choir Founder - Director

 

All worship must spring from a sense of God's presence - of our need to worship and adore the Living Presence through active and manifest praise and petition - be it through the minions of the mind and psyche or through the physical and joyous outpourings of the expressed word - spoken or sung. We must worship, we must praise, we must adore with our whole being and all its faculties moving toward Him, in some form of expression without thought of self first and so moving toward Him, become more like Him - joyous, vibrant, loving, active and positive - to take up our stewardship here on earth thereby anticipating "the essential and all-engrossing activity of eternal life." How has man come to express this need and this longing? The spoken word has been found not adequate, the shouted word undignified and unbecoming, therefore, the exalted feelings required beget exalted speech which is what we call singing.

Music is the handmaid of worship, and the human beings who make music must assume a unique position in the "priesthood of the laity." Music is the most spiritual of all the arts of self-expression. Music is the most active form of participation in worship and reaches not only the intellect through words and ideas, but profoundly probes the depths of the spirit in seeking common union with God.

Music is an art of human expression which directly voices the human soul in sound governed by rhythm. It can literally utter the voice of the spirit through the flesh; and make the spoken word more intensely vital, more sincere, truer. Music, in its combination of sense and spirit, corresponds to the nature of man, and to the sacramental idea characteristic of the religion of Jesus. Religion and art are qualitative expressions of the nature of being - therefore, allied.

Music has a double source in Man's existence, springing from the coordination of two very different human impulses. The first is the impulse of emotional manifestation of life as personal feeling. The high wandering sounds of a baby's voice communicate directly the baby's inner mood, long before speech is present. We call this the song impulse. The second is an impulse of "ordered law" corresponding to the individual's life processes, but also significant because it relates them to the universe outside himself. The baby's heartbeat, the rhythmic rise and fall of breath, correspond to the sequence of day and night. The baby will express very early this impulse. Later in life, when sustained tone is wedded to ordered rhythm, music is created; music which is the most human of all arts, because it can express directly personality in action; or life.

A widespread belief, not wholly conscious, exists in America that music, far from being an essential art of life, is merely a surface decoration. People tend to think of music as an escape from silence, of which they are unconsciously afraid; as an excitant whose exaggerated mechanical rhythms take the place of a calm which they cannot attain: as a sensuous pleasure which they can buy, paying the highest prices to the best purveyors of it, and estimating its excellence merely by the objective delight which it gives; as an emotional intoxicant, a spiritual drug whose emotion leads to no action, and therefore, leaves the spirit weakened as if by an opiate: as a superior sort of circus, which astonishes them by a display of mechanical or of intellectual dexterity. It is perhaps not strange to hear these misuses of music in a civilization preoccupied with material things. But as life becomes more deeply conscious of spiritual values, so the expression of life in religious music must become more real, more sincere; it must become true worship music in which the ordered, rhythmed sound, whether sung or heard, will be the veritable voice of the worshipper's prayer. No valid church music was ever made merely to be listened to as a sensuous pleasure.

It is a serious deficit of our culture that so many people classify music as an amusement; and not as a collective voice of mankind that unites mankind on a higher level of spiritual sensitiveness than they could otherwise attain. Music is a basic utterance of the whole man. Its message is not primarily directed either to the intellect or to the emotions, but to the total complete personality of the listener; and that message, to be valid, must spring from the complete personalities of both composer and performer. In it, heart speaks directly to heart, mind to mind, life to life. To the singer or to the listener, the message should become his own voice speaking within; not only as a sound of beauty, but also as the vital utterance of his own soul; so that he adores with the voice of Palestrina, prays with that of Bach, rejoices with the exciting sounds of Haydn, loves and suffers with the loftiness of Mozart.

Music is, therefore, not only closely related to life by its power of personal utterance, but still more by its essential character as rhythmic flow; for our life is a continuous movement of which we are conscious through periodic happenings of experience. Life is never a state, but always a process; never a being but always a becoming. This is especially true only in music.

The Dance possesses rhythmic flow in varying degrees, but remains external to all but the performers. Other arts are static in their relation to the life of Man. Architecture permanently shelters and expresses the various manifestations of Man's social activity. Painting records his interpretation of the world which he sees; Jewelry and Clothing adorn his body; Sculpture perpetuates the forms of that body in its more perfect or passionate states; Poetry defines particular aspects of his thought and feeling. Only music moves and changes, lives in parallel with his life, agonizes with his struggle, mourns with his grief, exults with his joy, prays with his adoration. From the dawn in barbarism when Man's understanding unfolded sufficiently to see that "light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world," the sense of Divine vision has evoked the mysterious power of music to express Man's reaction to his awareness of the unknown, to vitalize, supplement and exalt speech in the utterance of worshipping a needed and Divine God.

Copyright 2002 George Bragg
(Used with permission)

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