The Universality of Music in Worships

Expressing the grandiose quality of God is an essential part of human worship tradition. For example, architectures of worship from diverse religious background, no matter Christian churches or Hindu temples, usually feature enormously spacial constructions that embody the highness of the deity. Similar to grand architectures, music is also an universal element of worship because of its power to symbolize the magnificence of God.

One of the most traditional and spontaneous ways of making music, singing is a fundamental musical practice in religious activities on account of its effective expression of texts. As St. Augustine demonstrated in his analysis of the tension between love of music and Christian conscience, he said:

 I realize that when they were sung, these sacred words stir my mind to greater religious fervor and kindle me in a more ardent flame of piety than they would if they were not sung.1

Universally, from Jewish psalms to Buddhist chants, religious music often integrates liturgical texts with melody, harmony, and rhythm, in order to empower the rhetorical effect of the words. The strength and uniqueness in the conveyance of texts make singing, alongside with other methods of communication, a common practice of worship.

In the same analysis written by St. Augustine, the Church Father also indicated another powerful aspect of music, that is the emotional appeal. He said:

I also know that there are particular modes in song and in the voice, corresponding to my various emotions and able to stimulate them because of some mysterious relationship between the two.2

The recognition of such connection between music and emotion was also reflected in other writings from different backgrounds. Aristotle recognized the “enthusiasm,” or the purely aesthetic pleasure, brought by musical practices; In Islamic tradition, “sama” implicates the irresistible emotional influence of music, despite which triggered debates around the morality of using music in religious activities.3

Referring to various religious traditions, we seldom notice that music is deemed as feeble. Quite the opposite, people realize the overwhelming impact of music, both on their perception and emotion, which in fact keeps music an indispensable part of worship regardless of all the debates around it.

1 Piero Weiss and Richard Taruskin. Music in the Western World: A History in Documents. (New York: Schirmer Books, 1984), 26.

2 Ibid., 27.

3 Amnon Shiloah, “Music and Religion in Islam,” Acta Musicologica 69/2 (July-December 1997), 149.