The Power and Magic of Music

Every other Friday I go to a local assisted living facility and play for 30-40 minutes.  I play all kinds of music.  Old songs like “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and “You are My Sunshine” get them singing along with me.  They love to listen so songs from old movies like “The Sound of Music” and “Exodus.”  The program is always ended with some old hymns, songs that only those over 60 even know.

Over the years as I have played in these facilities, perhaps the most requested song is “In the Garden.”  The song speaks of being with Christ in the garden but as I play it I envision the beautiful garden I had at my former home.

As I play for the residents of these facilities, some are very alert, sing along and truly enjoy the music.  Others are clearly struggling with physical or mental difficulties, and do not sing along but they clearly enjoy the music.  Then there are the few who do not seem to have any idea where they are or what is going on sometimes falling asleep as I play.

Yet I find those are the ones who are the greatest blessing to me when they do respond to the music.

Years ago my husband and I did a service at a nursing home in Edwardsville, IL.  One woman would be wheeled in by one of the nursing staff.  She sat with her head slumped to one side and appeared to have no idea we were even there.  But one Sunday we sang the old gospel hymn “There is Power in the Blood.”  Instantly this woman sat up, smiled and began singing along perfectly in a clear and beautiful voice.  As soon as the song was over, she slumped back down in her chair and appeared to once again have no idea where she was or what was going on.  Seeing this we sang that song every week and she always “came to life” at the sound of that song.

Today I saw that same thing happen.  One lady in the music room appeared to be totally unaware of her surroundings.  When I began singing “In the Garden” she came to life and sang in a VERY loud voice.

My heart sang with joy as I left the music center at the end of the program and headed down the hall to the front door.  She was sitting in the hallway just outside her room and I could hear her all the way down the hall as she continued to sing in a VERY loud voice “In the Garden.

There is magic in music.

Where words leave off, music begins.” 
― Heinrich Heine

“Music is the universal language of mankind.” 
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“Music is the literature of the heart; it commences where speech ends.” 
― Alphonse de Lamartine

“My heart, which is so full to overflowing, has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary.” 
― Martin Luther

Detroit Michigan = Motown

Growing up as a teenager in the 60’s I loved the sound of music coming from the studios of the record company Motown in Detroit Michigan.  To me at the time Detroit seemed like a world away.  Little did I know I would one day live just a little over 100 miles from the city.

Today the studio where most of the music of Motown was recorded is a museum.  Called Hitsville USA the museum hosts visitors from around the world who come to see the place where the magic began.

hitsville

Looking back now at that time in American it is ironic to me that this record company founded by a black man, Berry Gordy, and featuring black singers should rise to such success at the same time that much of the country still had Jim Crow laws.

Diana Ross told a story of being in New Orleans for a show.  When she stopped to take a drink at a fountain she noticed people all around her staring.  Pleased at first at the thought that she had been recognized by fans, she was soon disappointed to see that their stares were because she was drinking at a fountain marked “for whites only.”

When Gordy took a group of his new artists on a bus tour in the south they stopped for the night at a hotel.  Hot from the long day on the road, they quickly put on their swimming suits and jumped in the pool.  All the whites in the pool just as quickly got of the pool.  After a few minutes when they discovered that the blacks in the pool were Motown artists, they joined them in the pool.

Some of the great artists of this record company that I loved to listen to:

stevie

Stevie Wonder

 

The Supremes

temptations

The Temptations

I especially loved Chubby Checker who started the twist.  My brother would often tease me by singing the one line from the song:

You should see my little sis.  She knows how to rock, she knows how to twist.

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motown 2

 

This year Motown celebrates 50 years making music.  Gordy started the business with a family loan of $800 but it quickly grew into a financial success.   It became the most successful independent record company in history and the most successful African-American-owned business in America.

 

Perhaps the greatest achievement of Motown was how it helped to break down racial prejudice.

 

 

To Hymn or not to Hymn

Growing up in church we always sang hymns from a large hymn book that was placed in holders on the back of the church pew.  Many times there would also be a Bible there.  The “song leader” would announce the page number before each song and we would all turn to that page and sing from the hymn books which had both the words and the music printed for us.  (In some churches the page numbers would be listed in the bulletin or posted on a sign at the front of the church.)

Depending on the local church, the singing might be accompanied by a pipe organ, an electric organ and piano and maybe even a few guitars or drums.

hymn 2

This was how worship was supposed to be done.

Slowly over the years in the churches I attended the organ became a thing of the past and the piano was replaced by the keyboard.  A few guitars became many guitars.  Song leaders were replaced by worship teams.  Hymn books became obsolete as the words were projected on a screen from an overhead projector.  Finally, the hymns I grew up with were replaced by what we call “contemporary music.”

Gone were the days of the great song writers like Charles and John Wesley, Fanny Crosby and Isaac Watts.  This was now the time of Chris Tomlin, Michael W Smith, Amy Grant and Matthew West.

And the music war began.

On one side was the younger generation who loved the new songs and the new technology which made hymn books seem outdated.  On the other side was the older generation who treasured the songs they had grown up with and loved singing with hymn books that included the music.

Arguments went back and forth.  Some said we needed to use music that would reach the younger generation and keep them in the church, or in some cases, bring them back to the church.  Others said we were showing disrespect to the older generation that had worked hard in the past so that the church even existed.

I have found it so sad that we have had this music war.  While I understand the desire to have worship that we feel comfortable with and really like, I question:

  • Is our worship based on the music itself rather than on praise and gratitude to God?
  • Are we unable to worship God unless it is done “our” way?
  • Is it really worship of God if we seek our own personal enjoyment?

I wrote a couple of blogs on this thought before – hope you will click on and read them also

Worship – What’s Your Style?

Worship – What’s Your Style – Part II

Recently I began reading a book “The Hymnal – A Reading History” by Christopher N Phillips.

I discovered that this war on music in the church is not a new thing.

Mr. Phillips has studied the practice of reading and using hymnals going back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  He relates that Isaac Watts created a small hymnal with only words.  These hymnals were not kept in the pews at church but rather were owned by individuals who used them not only for worship in church, but as a source of devotional reading.  They would carry their hymnals back and forth to church much like we used to do our Bibles.  Many learned to read by using the hymnals as a text book and the songs were memorized as poetry.

Up to this time the worship in churches had been to read only songs taken directly from the Psalms.  When Watts began introducing hymns (songs written about God but not taken directly from scriptures) there was controversy between those who welcomed the new hymns and those who said the church should only use psalms.

watts

Examining old hymnals Phillips found that family members used them to record special events and even wrote notes in them during the church service to share with one another.  In one hymnal he examined he found written notes in two different hands:

What are you laughing at?

Bumble Bee has struck an atitude (sic)

In one hymnal he found comments on the fashion and appearance of other members.

Mrs. Horatio Fisher has got a new bonnet!

Ellen Stearns looks at this distance like Mrs. Frank Cutter.

As hymns became accepted and replaced the psalms or were used with the psalms,  churches began to use hymn books as a mark of membership.  Phillips writes:

“Only the most ambitious and radical new communities made the effort to produce a new translation of the Bible, but every group seems to have shared an impulse to create its own hymn book.”

At first even the hymns were read more often than sang as there was no musical notation for the songs.  Slowly musical notation for the hymns was developed.  Only a few who were trained in music would purchase the books with the notes since printing both words and the notes was very expensive.  As some became trained in music choirs developed to sing the new hymns.  Most of the congregation still had hymn books with the words only and read along as the choir sang.

Then Henry Ward Beecher came along.  A minister at Brooklyn’s new Plymouth Church,  he wanted his congregation to sing the hymns in church.  He felt a strong need for his people to get beyond intellectual consent to the Gospel and to actually have an emotional response to the good news.  Music was a way to do this.  If he could get the music into the hands of his congregation they would sing and thus engage personally in worship awaking their emotions and heart as well as their intellect and mind.

So – began another war on music in the church.

But that story is for another post.

Questions:

  • What style of music does your church use?
  • Do you like the “contemporary” worship or long for the “good old days of hymns?”

 

 

 

 

Why Sunday Morning Worship Speaks to Me

In Christian circles we use the word “worship” to often refer to the twenty or so minutes we spend on Sunday morning singing songs.

Depending on the church you attend the music may be very formal with hymn books, organ and perhaps a choir.  It may consist of words projected overhead on a screen with guitars, drums and a small group of singers leading.

You may sing hymns written hundred of years ago by Charles Wesley, Fanny Crosby or Isaac Watts.  You may sing contemporary songs written by Chris Tomlin, Michael W Smith or Darlene Zschech.

worship 2worship

It is amazing how churches have been divided by the style of music played on Sunday morning.  I have shared some thoughts on that subject in the past.

Worship – What’s Your Style?

Worship – What’s Your Style – Part II

But worship is much more than that.  Realizing that is important if we are to grow in the Lord for only twenty or so minutes once a week  is not enough to keep strong the bond with us and Jesus.

Still, I find those twenty minutes on Sunday morning are such a blessing to me.  First, it is encouraging to sing with fellow believers and hear their voices raised with mine declaring our faith and God’s goodness.

This Sunday I was reminded how important the sense of community really is and my heart was so encouraged.  I try to stay focus on the music and the words and keep my attention on the Lord.   But I noticed a young family worshiping across the aisle from where I sat.  They are a young couple with a small child.  What a joy it was to me when I saw this young couple clearly  focused on worshiping God as the father held their little daughter.  What an encouragement to know we still have  young families loving and serving God.

I am also amazed how many times when the choice of songs seem to speak directly to me.  Songs of joy and praise when I come to church and everything is going great in my life.  Songs of encouragement when my week has been stressful.

Right now I am in a physical struggle facing possible surgery and dealing with pain that I have experienced now almost four years.  Pain that is only getting worse.  The worship leader who chose the songs did not know that but it was as if he had read my mind and picked songs just for me.

These songs have reminded how God has always been there for me – and I will be playing these songs over and over in the weeks to come.

Hope you might take time to listen to these songs also and let them encourage you.

 

 

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Music in a Small Town

Moving from a metropolitan area to a small town I thought I would miss the great musical opportunities I had in the Quad Cities.  My husband and I had season tickets to the Quad City Symphony and we enjoyed excellent music with well-known guest artists.

But recently I discovered great music can be found anywhere.  This month we had the pleasure of listening to a “Brass Holidays” concert by the Mountain Town Band.

brass

This elite brass ensemble was formed in 2016 and includes university trained musicians from all over middle Michigan.  Since St Johns is in the middle of the state, they have chosen to conduct their practices here – and also to give performances here two to three times a year.  They are a brass ensemble in the British brass band tradition, successfully blending impeccable musical virtuosity with an enjoyable audience-friendly ambience.

I was not familiar with the brass band tradition but after listening to this great music, I decided to check it out.

brass in

I found that the Brass Band dates back to the early nineteenth century and England’s Industrial Revolution.  As the workers began to organize for more wages and better working hours, employers organized and supported bands as a way to actually decrease their  political activity.  Slowly as music departments began to develop at universities performance improved.  There were 750 brass bands in England by 1860.   Slowly these brass bands have expanded all over the world.

By the start of the Civil War there were brass bands throughout the USA.  Bands were used at rallies to encourage enlistment.  Bands were used to improve morale and were even sent in with the infantry to play during battles.

band 2

8th New York State Militia Band, 1861

Today there are hundreds of brass bands in the USA.   There is an North American Brass Band Association (NABBA) dedicated to the promotion and development of the British-style brass band movement in North America

If you get a chance to hear a brass band, don’t pass it up.  You will enjoy it I guarantee.