In this edition, we will attempt to examine the origins of church music and how it has evolved over the centuries to the year 2013. However, our discussion may not be as indepth as we would like due to space. We can nevertheless assure you that our offering will be very informative, stimulating and thought provoking.
To begin, we have discovered from research, that music which is used as a functional part of corporate Christian worship can properly be called church music. It varies greatly among religious groups by reason of differences in tradition, dogma, taste, financial support and degrees of musical skill.
By far the largest amount and the highest artistic level of church music, may be found for the choir, that is, in choral music. †The traditional choral forms of the church ≠– masses, motets anthems and cantatas — were developed to fill needs of the liturgies from which they sprung.
Non-llliturgical faiths have not contributed significant musical forms, but have provided additional dimension to those named here. The music of the early church was intended for unison chorus (plainsong), but the general acceptance of polyphony in the middle ages, moved the performance of part-music into the choir, which further benefitted by the addition of instruments to the performing combination.
In later years, such widely different sects as the Russian Orthodox and the Disciples of Christ, have stressed choral music, but have forbidden the use of instruments in their worship. Christian Science traditionally employs only a solo singer.
Most denominations have depended on choirs, paid or volunteer, to supply the bulk of their vocal music, generally with organ accompaniment. The organ has been an important feature of church music because it satisfies the need for variety in supporting choral music, without imposing the burden and expense of an instrumental ensemble; it is also a satisfactory instrument for leading congregational singing.
There has been a centuries-long debate on the propriety of the popular idiom in church. Borrowing from secular sources in order to “intoxicate the ear”, was deplored in the 14th century by Pope John XX11, and the matter has never since been settled satisfactorily.
The Cantus Firmi of the renaissance were often taken from Chansons. Luther adapted secular tunes to the needs of his chorales, and since the middle of the 20th century, folk and popular idioms have again been incorporated into the music of the church.
In the year 2013, incorporation of the popular melodies of the day into church or what is better known as gospel music, is even now more wide spread and cemented, it would appear.
Choir music continues to be an important aspect of the Christian musical agenda, so much so, that choir competitions have become a norm. Churches which traditionally were known to “frown” on the use of instruments in worship or inclusion of the up-tempo or rhythmic musical idioms of the Caribbean, not only deploy such genres in their liturgy, but have even permitted “worship” dance groups to perform.
The Seventh Day Adventist Church, which generally only used organ/piano accompaniment in its worship, is gradually accepting additional instruments to boost their music, while the traditionally conservative churches such as the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Methodist churches are also embracing a much wider spectrum of music.
There has been such a radical departure in church music from the masses, motets, cantatas and anthems of the early church, that Christian artists are not only performing in church, songs to the “big name” commercial genres of the day, but are also recording them and using the social media to spread their message and boost sales.
These days, it is not unusual to hear the local gospel acts “riding” their songs on the billion dollar American idioms of hip hop, R&B and rap, notwithstanding the fact that the indigenous Caribbean rhythms of reggae, soca/calypso, spouge, cadance and so on, are not left out.
For example we can point to contrasting styles of A Few Good Men, who rap their musical message and De Warrior, who preferred to do it in soca. We also have a Roman Catholic priest who tries to sing calypso, a Christian-oriented calypso tent, Christian artists entering the various soca/calypso competitions of the island’s annual Crop-Over Festival and a church group known as the Walk Holy Band, taking part in Grand Kadooment — the street revelry which climaxes the festival.
Have Christians gone too far? It’s something to think about.
In another matter,†Executive Producer of the Barbados Gospelfest, Adrian Agard, has been given an international gospel music award for his significant contribution to the industry in the Caribbean.
Agard was presented with the International Contributor of Caribbean Gospel Music Life Time Award during the inaugural Canadian Gospel Music Award Showcase in Ontario last weekend. The honour was bestowed on him by the Canadian Caribbean Gospel Music Awards in recognition of his 21 years spearheading the local Gospelfest.
“It was a tremendous honour to be recognised as having impacted the Canadian gospel music and this continues to underscore the strength and potential of Barbados Gospelfest,” said Agard.
“This award is testimony of the reach of Barbados Gospelfest and is a positive highlight for Barbados and the sponsors who support Barbados Gospelfest.”
He was full of praise for his wife Margaret and the Barbados Gospelfest Planning team.
The Canadian Caribbean Gospel Music Awards seeks to highlight the substantial contribution of these artists by honouring them during its showcase.