Consecrated Church Musicians

Who and what is the work of the consecrated church musician?

By OLIVER S. BELTZ, Professor, North­western University School of Music

MUSIC OF THE MESSAGE Ideals, Objectives, and Technique

In the Scriptures, song is ever used to express the epitome of spiritual exaltation, or religio-emotional joy. The Psalms, like the Prophets, are replete with definite calls or challenges to give expression to the highest type of religious exaltation through the me­dium of song. These expressions may be fa­miliar, but their repetition will be profitable.

"Serve the Lord with gladness: come before His presence with singing." Ps. 100:2. "Praise the Lord with harp : sing unto Him with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings. Sing unto Him a new song." Ps. 33 :2, 3. "O let the nations be glad and sing for joy.' Ps. 67:4. "Sing forth the honor of His name: make His praise glorious." Ps. 66:2. "Sing unto God, ye kingdoms of the earth ; O sing praises unto the Lord." Ps. 68 :32. "Sing unto Him, sing psalms unto Him: talk ye of all His wondrous works." Ps. 105 :2.

This array of exhortations to song might be lengthened almost indefinitely. Note such ref­erences as Isaiah 26:19; 52:8, 9; 49:13 ; 35:1, 2; 51:3; 55:12; Jeremiah 31:12; Zephaniah 3:17.

Music and song as a concomitant of feast­ing, revelry, or debauchery, is also brought to light in the Scriptures. But where it is men­tioned thus, it is to show how song and music are debased when forced to serve the perverted instincts of the human nature. "The harp, and the viol, the tabret, and pipe, and wine, are in their feasts; but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operations of His hands." Isa. 5:12. In Amos 5:21 the Lord shows His displeasure at such perversion of music, which should be put to more exalted use: "I hate, I despise your feast days." "Take thou away from Me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols." Verse 23.

The full implication of this last text reaches into our religious services, and challenges the very approach to the problem of church music itself. Can it be possible that this text has ever been directed to any of us as we have sung the arias or choruses of a great oratorio, while we ourselves have not experienced the reality of what we have sung? All too often we hear the heaven-born aria, "He shall feed His flock" from the oratorio "Messiah," or its companion number, "Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden," sung by solo­ists who themselves are far from being at peace with their Maker. Often one hears the words, "From sinking sands He lifted me," sung by those who are themselves servants to the pleasures and follies of life.

My first concern in this consideration is the spiritual status of the musical leadership of our own people in our Churches. Among these musicians are to be found those who exemplify severally every degree of spirituality, and even the lack of it. To those musicians who es­pouse the cause of Jesus Christ in word and deed; who are, as Paul admonished his pupil, Timothy, "an example of the believers," in all things, let me say, "Be of good courage."

The work of the church musician, in so far as it ministers to the spiritual needs of both youth and adult, is a work of the first order. It was in the original plan of God's church that the musician should- stand shoulder to shoulder with, and rank next to, the minister. See i Chronicles 25. The work of the con­secrated church musician is a spiritual min­istry of the highest order. Whether he sings a psalm, a hymn, a prayer, or a Scriptural can­ticle, his is a spiritual ministry in so far as his work lifts up Jesus. As Jesus is the "center and soul of every sphere," so His exaltation must become the object and aim of our labors.

True, it is sometimes disheartening to see how honor, laudation, and pecuniary benefits come to musicians whose chief claim to the title of musician is their ability to perform' artistically and withal beautifully, but who lack a grasp of the "things of the Spirit," and whose work in the final analysis is but "sound­ing brass or a tinkling cymbal." It is even more disheartening to see members in our churches take delight and satisfaction in a type of music that is worldly in its essential ele­ments. A large number of our laity, as well as some of our workers, are not clear as to what the basic principles of sacred music are, as set over against the secular. Too many of our musicians, too, are not clear on this point, if we may judge by the music presented in some of our religious services.

Spiritual Preparation to Parallel Academic

The real church musician will meet these conditions by preparing himself in his art and calling to the highest possible degree. He should first be thoroughly prepared for his work from the standpoint of technique, aca­demic training, and of course in those char­acteristics considered everywhere as neces­sary to a successful career in any field of en­deavor. But the preparation that must par­allel this academic training is the spiritual. To disregard the latter until the former is completed, or even well under way, is fatal. Here is where many musicians fail, and where can be found the cause for the paucity of their success as church musicians.

As already stated, when the end and aim of the labors of the church musician is the exal­tation of Jesus Christ, the spiritual powers will be developed in proportion to other abil­ities. A musician fortified with such objec­tives, who has faith in the overruling providences of God, will not be discouraged when those less qualified are exalted. Nor will he be dismayed when some in the church seem to delight in a type of music not consonamt with a sound religious profession, or representative of the times in which we live.

Men of faith have a sublime assurance that truth and right will win in the struggle with sin and error. This is not assumption on their part. On the contrary, experience teaches us much. But "we have a more sure word of prophecy" which definitely places a divine origin upon such an outlook on life. Is our faith equal to the demands of the times? Have we as musician placed all on the altar of sacrifice for Christ, glorying in the exaltation of Him who has called us to be a light to those who sit in darkness? May we, somehow, even in this hour, gain a new vision of our calling and our opportunity.

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By OLIVER S. BELTZ, Professor, North­western University School of Music

February 1939

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