Music, for What?

To what end do we sing in church? For a purely decorative beauty? (We might try to imagine what we would do in a Lord’s Day service if music weren’t an option.) Isn’t the gospel itself, with neither addition nor subtraction, already so beautiful that it bears no decoration, and isn’t the Christ himself so glorious that nothing will add to or take away from his divine majesty?

What would it matter that such a gimmick as music – if music were a gimmick – attracted people, if it rather distracted them from the pure beauty of the unadulterated gospel than drew them to the beauty inherent in the word spoken by the Holy Spirit in the bosom of the Church? But if music is instead a simultaneous commentary to bring out rather than obscure the message of the Cross and the meaning of the words, a commentary that works rather by beauty responding to beauty than by logic responding to the hearer’s felt needs, no complaint can stand against it. This is a qualification, then, to my previous statements that style doesn’t matter: beauty matters, but the era’s prevailing fads in taste are insignificant.

No music will rescue shallow lyrics from shallowness; catchy music by itself is absolutely useless to worship. But context is everything, and madrigalian word painting brings out the drama of the words themselves in their context. Isn’t this the only aim in composing music for lyrics, if the lyrics are good?

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