The Relationship Between Music and Christianity Part 2

In our first post in our installment of The Relationship Between Music and Christianity Part 1 we explored the role of music throughout the Bible focusing on both the Old and New Testament records. We found that music played an important role in worship and faith.

In this Part 2 post on Christianity we will explore the different types and styles of worship music that have come about as Christianity spread and changed over time.

A Melting Pot of Musical Influences

As Christianity spread across the border cultures of the eastern Mediterranean Sea throughout the first two or three centuries following the death of Christ, Christian communities incorporated features of other musical influences including Greek and Syrian styles. However, the use of instruments in early Christian music started to be frowned upon during this time, with St. Jerome writing that a “Christian maiden out not even know what a lyre or flute is like…” Because of the instability of Christian institutions through numerous invasions and political conflict of the sixth through seventh centuries, record of musical roles in Christianity is scarce.

Gregorian Chant and the Organ in Christian Music

After being used as a secular instrument in imperial and court music, the organ in church music is believed to be from the time of Pope Vitalian in the 7th Century. As Christianity came back into acceptability in the 9th and 10th centuries, worshipers started building large cathedrals and churches which were filled with large singing groups of monks and nuns. The very first groups performed monophonic, unaccompanied sacred songs sung in Latin called Gregorian chants. While named after, and often attributed to Pope Gregory, scholars believe they actually arose from a later combination of chants. Eventually, Gregorian chants evolved over time from various sources and influences to a more modern structure, allowing for multiple octaves and even harmonies. In the late middle ages, pipe organs became more commonplace in churches, accompanying the choir to fill the room with sound. And when congregational singing was introduced, the organ was used to help worshipers follow along. During the Baroque period, harmonic theory culminated in famous composers such as Pachelbel , Handel, and J.S. Bach. Still used in musical instruction today, Bach’s innovations arguably gave birth of what was to become a globally loved genre of music – classical. Later in the classical and romantic periods, innovations in the ability to change the dynamics between loud and soft sounds quickly were introduced in instruments such as the piano.

Revolution in Music and American Culture

An entire volume of research can be written on the influence of African-American spirituals and their heavy influence on nearly all genres of American music, including blues and eventually big band jazz. However, in the 1920s, churches began to shun the big band jazz music of the time. They declared that it encouraged dancing, which was being used as a sexual mating ritual. This relatively “silent” period of Christian music is still evident in many hymnals used by Christian churches today, where there are very few popular Christian songs dating from the 1920s and beyond. However, shortly following the hippy revolution of the sixties, many believers found Jesus in their search for salvation. The Jesus Movement gave birth to an entirely new approach to Christian music, where worshipers started writing new music in their culturally familiar instruments such as acoustic guitars.

Modern Christian Music

As evangelical churches adapted to changing musical styles in order to appeal to more people, increasingly more modern musical styles were gradually adopted. While the Jesus Movement is often attributed with the invention of modern Christian music, some even earlier pioneers such as Larry Norman contributed controversial rock songs such as “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?” The “Jesus Freaks” continued to apply modern instruments and sounds to worship music, which became a multi-million dollar industry by the 1980s. Today, modern Christian music has entered nearly all forms and genres of popular music, and many churches host large “Praise Bands” that contain just about every instrument imaginable. However, vocals and chorus still remain a foundation for most Christian music today in order to allow worshipers to sing along in praise.

Having evolved later than most of the other major religions of the world, Christian music shows the various influences of other cultures and worship styles. Today, a multitude of different genres and instruments are used in worship and continues to evolve with popular trends in music. Continuing with our topic how music has been influenced by the major religions of the world, we will next explore the relationship between music and Hinduism.