For my undergrad degree, I needed a music class credit to fulfill a general education requirement. I had a couple of options, but ended up in a generic music appreciation class. I learned a lot – the teacher was charismatic and knowledgeable, and we covered some of the formal components of symphonies and concertos and fugues and the like, as well as some of the history of the major periods – baroque, classical, romantic, modern, that sort of thing. In addition to going to a classical concert and writing it up (I chose the Chicago Symphony Orchestra – they played Mahler), the only other assignment I remember is writing a musical autobiography.
I can’t find it right now, but I know that as part of that project, we were encouraged to consider books that had influenced our musical lives. I know I wrote a bit about Great Hymns of the Faith, the red, staid hymnal from the church I grew up in. We had one at home too, so anyone who wanted to could practice on the piano – three of the five of us were capable of doing so, and I suppose even I occasionally picked out some of the simpler tunes.
I still find many of those old hymns active in my mind – as I run, in the shower, as I’m waiting for the bus. Titles like “Oh for a Thousand Tongues,” “It Is Well with my Soul,” “Power in the Blood,” “Victory in Jesus,” and on and on. In church we sang them in beautiful harmony – the congregation I grew up with was quite musically talented. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know what four part harmony was.
As I begin to remember the violin, I find myself returning to some of those old hymns – they had strong melody lines and were often based on major keys that seem to suit the instrument. I don’t know/remember too much about keys, but I do know the hymns were often written to be somewhat easy to play and sing. Hymns are a kind of people’s music.
Thanks for reading.
[…] I ever was really very passionate about was the “regular” church music I grew up with – the Great Hymns of the Faith, as well as what I found to be inspirational Contemporary Christian Worship music. And I liked my […]
Crazy enough…I just saw this post a couple of days ago. I like that you mentioned the great hymns of the faith sung in harmony. That is one thing that so many churches are lacking these days–congregational songs sung in harmony, especially the strict four-part harmony found in Protestant hymnody. I’m thoroughly convinced that one of the reasons my oldest two are able to sing the harmonies is because they grew up hearing that kind of singing in their home AND at church.
Have you ever done any reading on the history of music in the Christian church? It is a hopelessly broad and completely engrossing topic. Well, it is for me anyway. You can narrow it down slightly by studying just the Western church music tradition (or the Eastern Christian tradition if that floats your boat). Two books you might enjoy (both focusing on the Western church music tradition):
“Te Deum: The Church and Music” by Paul Westermayer (http://amzn.com/0800631463)
“The Christian West and Its Singers: The First Thousand Years” by Christopher Page (http://amzn.com/0300112572)
The general consensus seems to be that the Western church’s musical tradition up until the time of the Second Great Awakening was a glorious mess, with more slightly more glory than mess. Since then it has been a period of slow and steady decline with the time from the Jesus People movement until now being a free fall into the deep weird.
Harmony’s definitely good for developing the musical ear, from my perspective! Thanks for the recommendations. I have quite a bit of ignorance pertaining to differences in the Eastern and Western Christian traditions – perhaps their divergent musical traditions are a good place to start!
[…] up, few songs moved me as much as The Great Hymn of the Faith It Is Well with My Soul. The head pastor of the church I grew up in had a near obsession with the […]