Sunday, April 3, 2011

Patterns in Protestant Church Music

Well, I finished chapters 2 and 3 of "Patterns in Protestant Church Music." They were very interesting. Chapter 2 was Reformed Church Music - The Basic Implications of Calvin’s Philosophy of Church Music, and it held some very interesting facts that I did not know. For instance, did you know that Calvin was opposed to four part singing and organs? I was rather surprised, because Calvin played a big part in giving us the Genevan Psalter, and whenever I think of Psalm singing, I think of 4-part harmony.
Here are some interesting quotes by Calvin:
"It would be a too ridiculous and inept imitation of papistry to decorate the churches and to believe oneself to be offering God a more noble service in using organs.... All that is needed is a simple and pure singing of the divine praises, coming from the heart and mouth, and in the vulgar tongue.... Instrumental music was tolerated in the time of the Law because the people were then in infancy." 1
"The Levites, under the law, were justified in making use of instrumental music in the worship of God; it having been his will to train his people, while they were as yet tender and like children, by such rudiments, until the coming of Christ. But now when the clear light of the gospel has dissipated the shadows of the law, and taught us that God is to be served in a simpler form, it would be to act a foolish and mistaken part to imitate that which the prophet enjoined only upon those of his own time. From this, it is apparent that the Papists have shown themselves to be very apes in transferring this to themselves."2
Because of these beliefs, many church organs were taken down, broken apart and used for other things. Here is another interesting quote about organs from Cotton Mather:
""And because the holy God rejects all He does not command in His worship, He now therefore in effect says to us, I will not hear the melody of thy Organs." 3
This is rather tricky because organs were not around in Bible times, thus they are not listed in the Bible. The Author of the book, Robert M. Stevenson says of Calvin, "In Calvin’s mind, music, when he did allow it, was conceived as Spartan in simplicity; like St. Augustine he knew the emotional power of music sufficiently well to fear it." 4
It is important to have a sort of "fear," when dealing with music. I believe that this fear should be a fear of God. But, I do not believe that instruments such as organs, and part singing cannot be used for worship. I do believe that those who are not trained in part singing should not be forced to do so to worship, but on the other hand, I do not believe that it is wrong to sing your part if you know it.

The 3rd chapter was on John Merbecke and the First English Prayer Book. I learned that the Archbishop Cranmer helped to translate the Latin verses into English and make them fit the origional tunes. He had John Merbecke help him in adapting the music for the Booke of Common Praier noted and insisted that there should only be one musical note per syllable. 5 Merebecke's musical talent later helped save him from execution.
These are just a few things I read and learned. I am interested to hear if you have any thoughts on the above quotes.
In Christ,

1. Stevenson, Robert M. Patterns in Protestant Church Music. London, England: The Duke University Press, 1953. pg. 14
2. Ibid pg. 15
3. Ibid pg. 17
4. Ibid pg. 21
5. Ibid pg. 26


Peter Bringe said...

When I was in Geneva, I bought a CD produced by the International Museum of the Reformation, called Songs and Music of the Reformation. Here are some of the things I learned from the booklet that came with it:

John Calvin was one of the poets who put the psalms into verse.

In 1562, there were over 30,000 French Psalm-books produced.

John Calvin’s plan for teaching the music: “we shall begin by teaching the little children, and with time, the whole church may follow.”

While it is true that in the worship of the church, there was only one part, as so to put more emphasis on the words, there was also produced note-to-note four part harmony, 4, 6, and 8 voice counterpoint, and instrumental variations, for concerts and home. “We have added to the singing of Psalms in this small volume, three parts, not so much to be sung at church, but to rejoice in God, in particular at home.” –Claude Goudimel

“Meetings were held in the evenings to sing a few psalms of Saintly Songlets [the more advanced pieces], either a capella or accompanied by instruments: lute, muselar, spinet, bass viol, sackbut, cornetto, bass horn …” –Jean-Christophe Aubert

While I do think we can (and ideally should) sing parts in church, I appreciate Calvin’s position. I think he took it, because he saw it was more important that the people sing simply, but well, instead of complexly, but poorly.

And while I do think we can use instruments in worship, I do believe we should be carful about which instruments we use. It is interesting that the arguments made against electric guitars, can be used against organs as well (at least during that time), such as it drowning out the words, bad associations, etc… A very interesting article I have found on organs in worship is by Robert L. Dabney, found here:

-Peter Bringe
Deo Vindice

The Babiak Family said...

Thanks for sharing! I especially liked the quote by Calvin about teaching the little children first. Concerning organs, I'm not a big fan of them myself. There are even some Bach songs that are too much for me. They do tend to drown out everything else. The article you shared was very interesting.
Thank you!

Anonymous said...

In music, as in all areas of life, it comes back to the heart. Is our music for our own glory or God's? Does it make us feel good, or is it pleasing to God? Is it a show, or is it true worship?

At the time of the Reformation, the papacy was an ostentatious desplay of man's glory. Pope Leo X said "God has given us the papacy, now let us enjoy it." So it makes sense that the reformers would want their worship to be completely unlike the church of their day. Four-part singing, instruments, etc. are not sinful. Its how they are used. Who gets the glory??