Hymnal, History Of Written Music Of Faith.
Recently, I attended a church with a good friend. Maybe I do not go often enough, but every time I step outdoors, I am in God’s magnificent temple that rejoices with song. I enjoy the gathering of the congregation, the mingling of the people, the delivery of the Word, but what draws me the most is the music. Sweat wonderful sound of instruments and voices blending to praise and pray. I grabbed the hymnal immediately after seating and marked the first song to be sung. When we all rose to sing, I opened to the page, I looked around and no one else had a hymnal in hand. They were reading the words projected onto the front wall. It was at that moment, I ran my hands over the pages of written music and felt like I was touching a dinosaur, touching hymnal history of music of faith.
Hymnals are noted back as far as the 4000 BC. These musical tones did not begin to liquefy on the pages until the Greeks assigned letters to represent each tone. It was in the 9th century that written music would have shapes and designs above each word for the “note” to vocalize. However, a century later, Guido d’Arezzo, an Italian whose goal was to record spiritual music of his time, modified the written music with naming the scale. We know this scale today as do, ra, me, fa, so, la, te…. The way we see musical notes on pages today was fully developed by the 17th century.
The social purpose of the songs, can be traced back to the Egyptians with the “Great Hymn To Aten”, to Hinduism in “Vedas”, Judaism in “Psalms” and the Greek in “Homeric Hymns”. The design of these hymns are lyrical, poetic, spiritual, emotional and full of devotion and loyalty, and with intent of unifying the people in song! Oddly enough though, these songs arose out of great turmoil or despair! For instance; the wonderful universal Hymn of today, “Amazing Grace”, was written by John Newton, a former black slave owner who later took the black man’s side in freedom. This song is about a slave owner who redeems himself and sets the black slaves free, seeking and receiving forgiveness. Yet, on a universal level, this songs is a prayer to recognize the sin in all of us and to forgive.
As I stood there, following the notes on the page, the memory of the melody came to me easily. The sharp black lines and dots danced upon the aging yellow page of the book, while the words skated beneath the rigid staff lines. I remember as a child, leafing through the hymnals and pondering over what stories created this score. The hymnals were well worn back then and full of so many songs, that the pages were bible book thin. The book I hold today is new, crisp and sturdy paper, with no past church members’ spirit lingering from their touch. No scratches, no torn pages, no pen marks.
A couple of songs we sang were not even from the hymnal, but of new voices about prayer and praise. Beautiful they were, but the old hymns hold memories, deep, rich and followed with the written music standing as classic art. Maybe it is the way we present the new music today, with new technology. In the newness, we neglect the root of our spiritual growth. These hymnals are the foundation of the spiritual music of today. I pray that these dinosaurs of hymns remain in the pews, sleepy but smoldering until they are awaken to ignite the spiritual fire.
Both the written word and written music has transformed our spiritual insight in the last 1000 years. With the written, we are able to share and remember. We have lost the oral traditions, story tellers, singers, in this fast pace society. Recorded in ink with both letters and notes, these songs can remain sacred so longs as they are exposed. We need to nourish the roots of our music so the new voices can grow strongly.
Our lives should be like these hymnals of old. We should walk everyday with a prayer song in our hearts and on our tongue. The Ancients believed that music was magical. Let the rejoicing of your life and sight in truth become God’s magic through song. Keep alight, the embers of the dinosaur in you and sing the hymnal history of music of faith.