Let There Be Music
~ by Sarah Marshall ~
And God said “Let there be music…”
Well, not exactly. God said let there be seas; let there be birds, fish and animals; let there be rivers and fountains. But God does nothing arbitrarily so without a doubt the sounds of Creation were intentional and deliberate and God saw that it was good.
God intended for the world to be full of music. If that were not the case the tones and melodies and rhythms of Creation would not exist. Human beings would not have been given a vocal instrument and we would not have been endowed with the ability to combine those sounds and create music of our own. Creating by its very nature glorifies the One that created all, putting to good use the inventiveness and creativity gifted to us by Him.
Consider the words of our Lord’s Prayer “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” Is there not constant music in Heaven? I believe the magnificent display at the birth of Christ is evidence enough that Heaven is full of the unending music of the angels. “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:13,14)
The angels were accustomed to singing praises to God. It’s what they do. And they recognized Christ as God on earth. They sang for Him in Heaven, why would they not sing for Him here? – “…on earth as it is in Heaven.”
With this in mind the early church understood worship with song and chant to be derived from the worship in Heaven. Accounts of those like Isaiah and Ezekiel give us the words: “And one cried to another and said ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory..’” (Isaiah 6:3 4), “…and I heard behind me a thunderous voice ‘Blessed is the glory of the Lord from His place.’’’ (Ezekiel 3:12).
Our worship is a Heavenly activity, an opportunity for the choir of people to be joined with the choir of the angels. And this is accomplished through music.
Music by its very nature has the power to move the soul and touch the heart. Most of us have had those experiences where music stops us in our tracks, brings us to tears or simply leaves us feeling peaceful and happy. Music that glorifies beauty and goodness and truth is a gift.
Unfortunately, like the rest of the fallen world, music has devolved from its original form and intention. The Age of Reason – that period in time when human beings became hell bent on understanding all the things – produced a society that was more interested in satisfying our own curiosity about the machinations of the world. We became more interested in what we, the mighty human being, could explain ourselves, than believing in the all-mighty who made it all and set it all in motion.
The effect this had on music specifically was a shift from music that glorified God to music that glorified people.
Okay, that’s a harsh statement and if I’m honest, not altogether true. 17th century composers like Claudio Monteverdi, Antonio Vivaldi, George Frideric Handel and Johann Sebastian Bach set a very high bar for Baroque music that exalted the natural world and glorified its Creator. But the seeds were planted. During the Baroque period music became metered rather than the irregular patterns found in natural speech. It became prescriptive in its use of sound calling for specific instruments or voices in
specific ranges. It began to be important who composed certain pieces rather than the anonymity that marked the compositions of the Renaissance.
Fast forward through the Classical into the Romantic periods and we have music that exists for its own purposes: to make political statements or comment on the conditions of the world, to glorify individuals or groups of people, to highlight the accomplishments of specific artists and build up the egos of individuals.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a brilliant musician, but struggled consistently throughout his life to reconcile his ego, and what he felt entitled to do, with what would actually earn a living.
Ludwig van Beethoven was a genius, writing some of the most well-loved and recognizable music in history. But the piece he considered his crowning achievement is rarely performed, a Catholic Mass he spent the last four years of his life working on, trying to capture what he knew to be the mysticism of God even though he was not a church-goer.
Johannes Brahms composed one of the most sensitive and beautiful Requiems ever written. But despite being deeply interested in the words of the Bible and using 16 different biblical references in the piece, refused to make any mention of Christ believing that religious beliefs had no place in the music.
Very little needs to be said about contemporary music today.
Now don’t read me wrong – I adore the music of the 17th, 18th and 19th century. Because here’s the punchline – God created music. All music. And our ability to make and enjoy music. So despite the fact that music has evolved and changed along with the rest of the secular world, it doesn’t mean that we cannot find God in it. Music, from Creation until now, demonstrates beauty, goodness and the Glory of God. We just might have to listen a little harder to find it.
In the wondrous blending of sounds it is Thy call we hear; in the harmony of many voices, in the sublime beauty of music, in the glory of the works of great composers: thou leadest us to the threshold of paradise to come, and to the choirs of angels. (The Akathist Hymn “Glory to God for all things”, Kontakion 7)
Try as one might, you simply can’t take God out of His Creation.
Sarah Marshall has an endless love of music and deep appreciation for the sights and sounds of God’s remarkable creation. She studied at two Summer Music Institutes at St. Vladimir’s Seminary as well as taking college coursework in music studies. She has directed choirs in both the Orthodox Church in America and the Antiochian Archdiocese for the past 40 years. She has developed and grown mission choirs and directed cathedral choirs, making beautiful music for the Glory of God with countless people of all ages and skill levels. Sarah has had a long career in software development and with her husband has raised 4 incredible children. She lives in Massachusetts and splits her time between St. George Antiochian Church in Lawrence, and St. George Antiochian Cathedral in Worcester, MA.