September is upon us, and with it comes the return of our “program year.” The choir has returned from summer break. We are ready for a full season of music to the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul. Our 2015-16 Music Season promises to be an exciting one, building on favorite events of previous year while introducing some new things as well. The choir has already begun work on our special services for the year, and I know their hard work will pay off with some excellent music.
While reflecting on our progress last season and over the summer and planning our special music for the new season, I’ve begun to ponder the role of sacred music in our lives more deeply. The ancient Greeks believed music was a gift from the gods and a reflection and expression of our souls. Amazingly, they even saw the body as a musical instrument. When everything works properly, our thoughts become the song of our bodies, in a certain sense, at least from an ancient point of view. It is easy to downplay the importance of the spiritual side of things in a society always looking for the plain and simple truth—the bottom line. Aristotle, and other Greek philosophers, believed music had the power to alter the soul. For them, music could even affect a person’s character. The ancient Greeks went so far as to say that certain musical scales (modes) would have different effects on the listener to such a degree that only certain ones were appropriate on certain occasions. This philosophy informed the way early Christians thought of music’s power, and it has continued to influence the way musicians have thought about music through all of the eras of sacred and secular music.
The idea that music has power is not new to us, but perhaps we have never thought it so powerful or important as to fundamentally affect our character. As the saying goes, “you are what you eat,” so too, you are what you listen to. Beautiful, well written music has the power to uplift our souls and minds so that we may better focus on praise of God—our ultimate mission. This is true in our daily lives, as well. Music really does have power over our thoughts and feelings and should be practiced and listened to with care.
As we begin our new year of worship, special services, and concerts at the Cathedral, it is my prayer that our music will always be appropriate for the event that it accompanies. To that end, our musicians will work hard to practice and perfect their craft so that our pieces will sound their best. Like any other craft, music takes discipline, maturity, discernment, inspiration, and restraint to achieve its highest form. As we strive to accomplish these things, we ask your prayers and participation with us.
We would love to have you in the choir, but there are other ways in which you can participate in our ministry. Just by attending our services and concerts, you are helping us create our music. By singing the hymns with us, you are exponentially increasing the volume of our songs of praise. By listening actively to our anthems, solos, and instrumental pieces, you are joining yourselves with us in spirit by being open to the messages the music contains. The listener is more important than any other single aspect of a musician’s situation. Here at Christ Church, we are blessed with wonderful, thoughtful listeners, and your musicians are grateful for that. As things get busier in the rush toward the end of the calendar year, don’t forget to take a deep breath and be present with us in our songs and worship.
Finally, remember that music has great power in the world. It doesn’t have to be complex or of a particular genre to be good, but it should be healthy for the soul. As we begin the month of September and thus our new season, the musicians of your Cathedral are prayerfully preparing music intended to ennoble the spirit, refresh the soul, stimulate the mind, and promote well being.