Music of the Vesper Hour

The power and influence of music in the program of the church is greater than we sometimes realize. There is no doubt about the good influence that carefully selected religious music has upon the Christian in developing taste and sensitivity to the beautiful expres­sions in art.

By H. B. HANNUM, Professor of Music, La Sierra College

The power and influence of music in the program of the church is greater than we sometimes realize. There is no doubt about the good influence that carefully selected religious music has upon the Christian in developing taste and sensitivity to the beautiful expres­sions in art. As we learn to appreciate the beauties of the love of God in nature, so we may also enjoy the artistic expressions of man through music and art. Nature is God's direct expression of beauty, and a work of art is man's interpretation or reaction to nature.

In a world almost overwhelmed with mate­rialism, perplexities, strife, trouble, and sin it is a great blessing to come apart and think upon the things of the Spirit in the created works of God and the art expressions of man. Music is. one of the finest art expressions which man has developed, and we have done very little with it as an aid in our services of worship.

Where there is talent of the right kind in our churches, services of meditation and worship can be planned which will be a great spiritual uplift not only to our people but to those not of our faith who might be attracted to such services.

It must ever be kept in mind that music or song must never be exalted to the place where it crowds out prayer and study of the Word of God. Never should the beauties of art or music take the place of the power of the Bible and the Spirit of God. But in exalting the Word it is not necessary to deprive ourselves of the many blessings which music might bring to us.

A short vesper program at sundown on Fri­day evening or Saturday evening can be very effective in calling attention to the beginning and ending of the Sabbath. Or other times than sundown, later or earlier, might be selected. The reading of the Scriptures and sacred poetry, the playing and singing of beautiful re­ligious music, periods of quiet meditation, and prayer should characterize these vesper pro­grams.

Vesper hours become trivial and common­place when the materials used are trivial and commonplace. There should be occasions when we listen to music which is better than our level of appreciation, when we sing hymns which use better poetry and music than we may be accustomed to, and when we are willing to come under the influence of spiritual things which will challenge us. How can we ever reach the summits of spiritual beauty in music, in hymns, in poetry, unless we at times attempt to climb to the heights?

Therefore in planning a vesper program it is wise to reach forward to better things. This is an excellent time for the chOrale preludes of Each on the organ, for the spiritual music of Cesar Franck, for the great church hymns, and for serious religious poetry. It is a time for such Scriptural passages as selections from Isaiah, Job, the psalms, and other expressions cif beauty as well as spiritual power. This need not be a program which is planned primarily to please the people. It is not necessary to be kuided entirely by the level of taste of the con­gregation. The purpose of this short service is to use art in a program of beautiful worship. It is not a program to tickle the ears or to in­doctrinate the believers. It is a time for medi­lation, for quiet, thoughtful contemplation of 'God as He has been expressed through the 'works of artists.

Of course, there are other types of vesper -programs which might be planned, but this is the kind of program which has been presented toward the close of the Sabbath at La Sierra College. Students are not required to attend the service. Those who desire such a half hour of communion with beautiful organ music and religious poetry are welcome to attend. Over a period of time those who attend such a pro­gram realize that an unconscious change in their tastes is taking place. They begin to see the spiritual values in a type of organ music previously thought mechanical and uninterest­ing. Now they realize that the fault was not with the music hut with their lack of knowledge and understanding.

One is not born with a liking for "Jesu, Priceless Treasure," a chorale prelude by Bach. On the first hearing, the music may seem to be messageless, but after a number of hearings the great spiritual beauty of this music begins to reveal itself. As one sees this beauty he realizes that truly his life has been enriched by this experience. And so this experience is du­plicated over and over again as one gets ac­quainted with beautiful sacred music.

It is best to stay away from the hackneyed, the trivial, the cheap, the sentimental, the re­ligious jingles, and all forms of unworthy music and poetry in building a good vesper program. One can very easily fall into the error of using materials which have been worn out because of overuse. A little careful study will reveal a wealth of material of greater beauty. In this, one must study to show himself ap­proved.

The idea of spending a half hour sometime on the Sabbath in a program of meditation and prayer, whether as a vesper program or at some other time, offers a type of service which could be of definite spiritual help to the church. The following are typical programs which were given at La Sierra College during the past year.

(See PDF for sample Vesper Organ Program)

It is highly essential that we keep clearly in mind the proper relation between beauty and religion. There are those who worship beauty. To them art and music become idols, and are worshiped. God never intended that the beauties of nature should lead men to worship nature. Men misjudge beauty in art and music when it becomes an object of worship.

On the other hand, there are those who are so fearful of anything artistic or aesthetic that they think there is no place for the beautiful in religion. The beauty of nature which God has so bountifully created should be a conclusive argument against this attitude. We should seek to beautify our lives and our worship in every way possible. To spend time improving our taste for poetry or music is by no means con­trary to the teaching of the Bible.

Much of the Bible is given to us in the form of beautiful literature, a great message ex­pressed in a beautiful way. And music is one of the best gifts of God to man. As we strive to beautify our offering of worship to God through the use of the best in music and poetry, we are but learning better the art of worshiping in the "beauty of holiness."

This does not do away with the need for the truths of the gospel and for sound doctrine. It is not intended that the old-fashioned religion and primitive godliness should be any less prized or sought after. The simplicity of the gospel need not be associated with ugliness and lack of beauty. There is no real conflict be­tween true godliness and the beautiful. How much more pleasing to God is a service of beautiful worship than an unattractive service lacking in beauty!

 


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By H. B. HANNUM, Professor of Music, La Sierra College

July 1949

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