Choir – Art of Singing As One Voice, Part 1 Mystic Origins

Singing is so basic to man its origins are long lost in antiquity, predating the development of spoken language.  A Choir is all about a group of people singing with one voice. Equally they have an extraordinary tradition stretching back to completely mystical origins.

Rhythm melody, harmony and colour are elements contributing to creating an art of sound with music, helping us provide an atmosphere wherein calm can prevail in our often tumultuous world.

Music in central to life in many societies and cultures in significant forms. It often expresses emotions and ideas we often cannot express in words, something we all share.

Emerging Christian church fathers during the medieval period in Europe’s history recognized the importance of music in relation to worship.

As the church became organized, they found that singers collectively gathered their courage to perform as well as the momentum to give outstanding performances as one entity.

Early church worship centered on the Psalms, 150 poems and hymns to God traditionally believed to have been written by King David, plus the Canticles, a song or chant containing words derived from the Bible. They formed the basis for all early liturgical practices, as Eastern and classical Greek religious traditions began to merge.

In the early church the rite of the Lord’s Supper was held in the evening and often linked with an agape meal or ‘love feast’. It was interspersed with prayers and songs rendered by the choir.

New rhythmical principles were established, based on numbers of syllables and accents full of energy, enthusiasm and with a strong sense of purpose.

This marked the beginnings of Christian hymnody, the composing or singing of a group of hymns that shared a specific characteristic, such as the time of composition or their use in a particular church.

Keeping nightly vigils, the oldest aspect of prayer life, made up the canonical hours, as it was exceedingly difficult for Christians to gather in daylight for fear of being discovered.

This was a time when church and state were still poles apart.

The first century Roman commentator Pliny the Younger recorded that ‘on certain days they get together before sunrise and sing songs to Christ as if he were God’.

As the Christian Church merged into public life, the development of the liturgy, or the form and arrangement of public worship, gradually became a major priority.

Monastic communities exerted a penetrating influence on the spiritual, economic and musical life of the Church and its worshipers.

Detail: Ghent Altarpiece, Chapel Cathedral of Saint Bavo, Ghent, Belgium, by Hubert and Jan Von Eyck

The alleluia was an exclamation of Christian joy, which was used to express thanks, praise to God, relief, welcome or gratitude.

Mariners reputedly shouted it from ship to ship while Christian soldiers used it as a war cry.

The historian and Doctor of the Church The Venerable Bede (672 or 3 – 735), was a Christian who earned the title “Father of English History”. He related the story of a battle known as the Alleluia Victory when the Britons defeated an Irish and Pictish marauding party.

Bede’s works “Musica theoretica” and “De arte Metricâ” (Migne, XC) have been found especially valuable by present-day scholars, who engage in the study of a primitive form of the chant.

Hymns were songs of praise, devotion and thanksgiving, reflecting the beauty of the cosmos and were often accompanied by dance movements and hand clapping.

From the fourth century on rhythmical hymnody took the lead through St. Ambrose.

He is a much admired and loved illustrious father of the early church, descended from an ancient Roman family that at an early period had embraced Christianity.

He represented his own Christian ideas by shaping them into melodies with an improvisatory character, that had an ability to excite the listener.

They became known as Ambrosian hymns

Although his actual personal input remains unknown, the vitality and artistry of his works, intended for the greater good, were enjoyed for centuries.

Today they still form the basis for many hymns we recognize, want to join in and sing to and many contemporary religious groups use their historical aspect to inspire current worship practices.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2013


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