Music in Church by Gillian Poland

Music in Church.

Rudyard Kipling, who wrote “Kim” and “The Jungle Book” also wrote this verse


I keep six honest serving men

They taught me all I knew

Their names are What and Why and When

And How and Where and Who.


So here come some possible answers to those questions, as they apply to music in church, as I see it.


What music is found in church?  The answer these days, is practically everything.  The greatest variety is probably found during memorial or funeral services, when mourners,  or even the deceased by his or her previously expressed wishes, are often given a fairly free choice.  In the past, things were very different, and  such choice was more likely to be limited to certain hymns and suitable voluntaries .  This is of course may well still be the situation in some churches.

Originally, of course, church music arose from the chanting of monks and priests, and it is through church records that we can trace the development of music from simple rhythmic  unison to the counterpoint (one tune set off against another) and harmony (additional notes that go with the notes of the main tune) that we recognise today as music.

Why do we have music in church?  Well, that is a very deep question indeed.  As a child, I used to look forward to the hymns as a welcome break to what I perceived as the monotony of being talked at; hymns and responses gave an opportunity to join in and be active as distinct from listening to other people all the time.  And of course the “incidental music” also made a change.   Nowadays I view music in church as helping to set a suitable mood or atmosphere – cheerful or contemplative, confident or consoling.

 When is there music in church?  During services, and particularly on festival days, when the musical arrangements may be more elaborate.  At other times, choirs and groups of instruments might  rehearse there for special performances connected with church activities or celebrations.

How is music produced in church?  Originally it would have been by the human voice, intoning (which perhaps, in the days before amplifiers, carried further than the spoken word), chanting and, eventually, singing.  Musical  instruments of various kinds also support services.  Until the church organ took over, village bands  assisted with tune and rhythm.  In remote areas, portable harmoniums were trundled around on carts.  Currently, the organ, pipe or electronic, and the piano are probably  the most often used, though other instruments, such as flutes and guitars, have comparatively recently been introduced.  This, a reminder of earlier days, allows more members of the congregation to take an active part. The Salvation Army has always used brass and percussion; these instruments especially impress the public and attract potential musicians.  It is a little sad to think that pre-recorded accompaniment may almost entirely supersede individual instruments in the future. Although reliable, it cannot adapt instantaneously  to particular needs and  unexpected situations.

Where is the music in church?  Everywhere –though not always at the same time.  Perhaps an instrumentalist will render a particular item to add emphasis to a message or to set an atmosphere; a soloist or a trained choir may present a special setting of a hymn, and of course the entire congregation take part ( it is hoped) in the hymns specified for the service.

Which gives the answer to the final question – Who provides the music in church?

You do, of course!


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