Universal Music or Music for Everyone?

On the first day of class, we talked about if there was music that was inappropriate for worship. As we brainstormed and shared ideas, no one could quite pin down an answer for this question. We struggled with deciding what is good or bad, if the purpose of the music has anything to do with the act of using it to worship, and if any of it really matters anyways. I think all these struggles are the reason music is “universal;” that is, there is some form of music that exists for every kind of worship.

Much of the early church wasn’t concerned with universality, and this continued until chant was codified by the 9th century. Early believers weren’t concerned with singing the same chant (a lot of them were more concerned with staying alive). Routley explains why there isn’t a lot of early history recorded. “Music was to them so natural an activity as to be hardly susceptible at that stage of moral criticism: moral criticism of the music, as we shall see, is in the Old Testament always criticism of the musician.”1 There wasn’t such a thing as bad music, as anything that could give glory to God was acceptable.

Much of the Old Testament is, as always, confusing. Music is both allowed and refuted, sometimes within the same book. Some early church leaders have very clear opinions about music, though, as pointed out by Weiss and Taruskin. Augustine is quoted to define a hymn as a “song with praise of God. If you praise God and do not sing, you do not utter a hymn.”2 I think this mindset is what calls people to believe that music for worship is universal. The texts have now been codified throughout the Church, and many of them cross between different branches of religion as well. But the music is constantly changing. I really think the only thing that matters for music in worship is that there is some sort of text that requires some sort of prayer. In this, music is not universal, but it does exist for everyone.