Religious Music as Rich in History as Religion Itself

Article excerpt

Byline: David Whitehouse

Historically, there are several ways that music and the ways of the church have been passed on from generation to generation.

Back in the sixth century, when there was only one Christian church, the church established what are known as Scholas, schools of music to teach young people the then complex system of single-line chanting that was used in all church services. By the end of the sixth century, St. Gregory the Great had collected and codified those chants in current use in the Christian world in a collection that came to be known as the Liber Usualis, or "usual book," still in use today in at least one area church.

Before the Scholas, young musicians learned by being in the company of and eventually singing with those whose duty it was to provide music for the divine services of the church, learning by absorption and rote. After the Dark Ages, the single-line chants in the Liber Usualis were used to make music of two, three and four parts, composers eventually adding newly composed music that did not come from the Liber - a highly controversial development as the church authorities did not want "impure" music to enter the church. It is interesting to note that for each advance of church music (first singing in two parts, then three, then adding harmony, a most diabolical addition!) the church authorities resisted with all their weighty councils and edicts, until clearer heads prevailed and the music sang forth to great effect (O sing unto the Lord a new song ...).

By the 16th century, the church had become extremely wealthy and politically powerful. Martin Luther, John Calvin, King Henry VIII and in times the Wesleys and others broke away from what they perceived as excesses of abuse of this wealth and power. Each church that was formed developed the training of musicians on the ancient model of the Schola. …