Music: the Universal Tool of Worship

So far, we have read how people (Aristotle, Plato, Pythagoras) and religions (Islam, Christianity, Suya, etc.) have regarded music. Since music spans many religions and cultures, it is important to ask ourselves why. Why is music a universal part of worship? What makes it accessible to religions that stem from every culture, race, and ethnicity imaginable? Is it the numerical perfection found in harmony? Is it divine inspiration that gives it life, as though music itself were a living thing moving through all of us?

I honestly don’t think that I have the answer.  I think that the true nature of music’s ability to move us is not something any book or author can describe. Whether I believe it to be divine or not, I believe it to be inexplicable. It is that all-encompassing and such a massive aspect of worship that I nor anyone else can truly determine why it lives deep within us. I do, however, think that it is naturally just a part of us. Perhaps, it is the holy spirit. Maybe, it is because music is tied with spiritual eroticism, as Holsinger notes in his article “The Flesh of Voice.” Perhaps, it is something that lives in us when a witch removes part of our souls, as the Suya believe (Seeger, “The Origin of Songs”). Perhaps, it’s the flying spaghetti monster. I have a hard time believing the last two examples.

Weiss and Taruskin write of Aristotle’s belief of music being cathartic, and in that regard, I agree. However, I disagree with the ideal (mostly addressed by Plato from the readings we’ve done) that “bad” music done by amateurs is deplorable. I don’t think someone can have “bad” music in a worship setting, because I believe that whatever form or genre of music speaks the most to you and connects you most to whatever higher power you believe in, that genre should be the music that you worship with.

I also think that that is one reason why music is a universal part of worship – no matter how often the powers-that-be in the church or any other organized religion try to regulate how worship music should be, people always create new ways of worshiping through different genres of music. Any genre of music can be used as worship – and any genre of music can move someone to action. Therefore, music can be used in Islam, Christianity, and any other religion and not lose its potency just because the style or genre has changed. The many possibilities of music make it so that there are many possibilities to speak to people via that music on a spiritual level.


Bruce Holsinger, “The Flesh of the Voice: Embodiment and the Homoerotics of Devotion in the Music of Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179).” Signs, Vol. 19, No. 1. (Autumn, 1993), pp. 92-125.

Piero Wiess and Richard Taruskin, Music in the Western World, (Belmont: Shirmer, 1984) 5-10.

Marcello Sorce Keller, “Why Do We Misunderstand Today the Music of All Times and Places and Why Do We Enjoy Doing So?” in Essays on Music and Culture in Honor of Herbert Kellman, ed. Barbara Haggh (Paris: Minerve, 2001), 567-574.

Anthony Seeger, “The Origin of Songs,” in Why Suyá Sing: A musical anthropology of an Amazonian People (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 52-64.


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