The Value of Religious Music


In an essay he wrote on sacred songs, James MacMillan states that “throughout centuries, musicians have demonstrated midwives of religion, bringing their gifts to the historic struggle of inspiring the faithful to worship.” He highlights the fact that it is often through the medium of music that something inside people is awakened.

One of the primary functions for church choirs through time has been to encourage congregations to worship, to consider their inner selves and the connection they have with God. Reverend Dr. Jeremy Morris, dean of King’s College at Cambridge from 2010 – 2014, has said something akin to this idea. King’s College is famous because of its heralded choir, as well as the renowned Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols service that is held every year on Christmas Eve. In referencing that service beloved by many, he stated that its primary purpose was centered round worshipping God. However, beyond that, the music’s objective was to help people resign from the commercialism and craziness of the season to consider, as he put it, “ultimate things.” These supreme things–and the pondering of them–appear to be equally encouraged and furthered by sacred music.

There are many who believe faith is limiting, merely a brainwashing agent for people who subscribe to it. MacMillan explains religious life in today’s culture this way:

“Substantial anecdotal evidence points to a widespread distress felt by religious people in the world. They face ignorance and prejudice, because to be spiritual, according to the new secular, liberal orthodoxy, is to be reactionary, bigoted, and narrow. A smug ignorance, a gross oversimplification and caricature that serve as an analytical understanding of faith, are the typical intellectual currency”

Though that perspective may function as “intellectual currency” of this day, religion is a private matter of the heart for people who embrace it. And even though it’s fed in a variety of ways, many religious individuals would probably identify music as a significant catalyst for cultivating faith, inviting manifestation, and as a vehicle for transporting them to a place of mystery, beauty, and grace.

Take King’s and the Christmas Eve service, for example. That sacred service brings people together from all over the world, tuning in via radio transmission. For 90 minutes, people in living rooms and kitchens across the earth listen to the clear voices of boys and men sing familiar carols with texts that are reflective regarding Christ’s birth.

David Willcocks was the director of the choir for many decades. His son, Jonathan Willcocks, afterwards recollected his father regarded his function at that position as “that a custodian of a great tradition.” Along with the current director, Stephen Cleobury, has the task of conducting the choir and choosing the music for that momentous event. He’s got the choir sing bits that mix well with the readings to the ceremony, and these pieces invite the listeners to actually contemplate the messages of their texts and think about their religion.

Whether it’s for a famous service like what occurs at King’s on December 24, and also the work of choirs in tiny churches throughout America, the custom of choir singing is a stunning and important one. There is something about stepping right into a quiet, low-lit church which can not be replicated. You slide into a pew and turn away all distractions. Then, you shut your eyes, open your ears, and also concentrate on one thing: extreme listening. And how can one explain what happens afterward?

Maybe MacMillan says it best:

“Music Gives us a glimpse of something beyond the horizons of materialism our modern values. What’s music, after all? You can’t see it ; you can not touch it you can’t eat it ; but its palpable presence always makes itself felt, not just in a physical manner, but also in ways that reach down into the crevices of the soul.

What is music? Can it be simply the notes on the page? If that’s the case, how do we equate those odd, shameful, static symbols together with the vivid, occasionally convulsive emotions provoked if the resulting sounds enter our ears, our brains, our bodies, and our secret selves?”

Amen, brother.

It Is our great privilege to offer transport for church choirs. If you’re attempting to arrange wheels for your group, consider a motorcoach! We would really like to help ease making it possible for the choir to journey together to deliver a meaning-filled, worshipful experience to those who will be gathered to listen to.

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