Music forms a “soundtrack” to our lives, evoking people, places, special occasions, joys and sorrows. Hearing about these connections makes the radio show, Desert Island Discs, fascinating. Guests can only choose 8 pieces of music, a book (plus the Bible and Shakespeare) and a luxury to take with them to the (hypothetical) desert island. Which ones you would choose?
In 1977, Abba celebrated the gift of music and asked questions about it: “Thank you for the music, the songs I’m singing; Thanks for all the joy they’re bringing. Who can live without it? I ask in all honesty. What would life be? Without a song or a dance what are we? Thank you for the music, you’re giving it to me”. The lyrics don’t make clear whom they are thanking – one person or several, each other, other people, or maybe even God?
I believe that music is a great gift from God, for expressing and exploring our thoughts and emotions, including love, joy, celebration, peace, patriotism, tension, grief, sadness, praise, the blues, confidence and questions. Whether as performers or audiences, and whether we sing, play or hear it live or recorded, billions of us enjoy the creativity of composers and performers. Music moves us and makes an impact. It’s therefore not surprising to see it feature prominently throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. The book of Psalms engages with praise, joy, delight, dancing and celebration, but also with grief, loss, rage, tears and despair (the blues). All human life is there.
A huge range of music has been used in worship, through the ages and worldwide. God delights in diversity. Made in God’s image, we are creative beings, expressing our thoughts, emotions and worship in varying cultural and musical styles. St Paul encourages us to “speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians chapter 5 verse 19). Hence, church music today ranges across those three genres (and more), as TV’s Songs of Praise shows. One size or style doesn’t fit all. May they all flourish, whether cathedral choirs and chants, hymns old and new, modern worship songs, music from the Iona and Taizé communities, the worldwide church and more. We seek to embrace the best of the old and the best of the new. Giving our best, blending resources appropriate to themes, participants and occasions, we aim to help everyone encounter and worship God more deeply in Spirit and in truth. Like Abba, we say, ‘thank you for the music, for giving it to me’.
Rev Fred Olney