A Look at How Religious Music Aimed at the Masses

In my last article, I discussed several sources of mass-produced music in the form of magazines and other periodical issues. They were affordable and put a lot of music into individual hands.

Today we are going to consider other music for the masses.

Those who belong to the Jewish and Christian traditions are familiar with the collection of prayers/songs of both religions, the book of Psalms. These prayers and songs were useful for collective and personal devotion. Many of them were attached to memory to remember at various times in life.

Many of us in the older generation can still recite psalms like “The Lord is my Shepherd” or “All that dwell on the earth” in one translation or another that we had memorized in our youth. There are many settings of the psalms by many composers, from ancient to modern times.

Since Antiquity, the repetition of liturgies and litanies has enriched worship. In my collection I have hymns from several Christian traditions and we can see how the liturgy has been shaped and changed over the years.

During my grad school days, I was fortunate enough to take a liturgy class taught by one of the top church musicians in the School of Music. His leadership inspired me to attend a constituent convention for church musicians a few years after taking his course. Sadly, I strayed from that focus in my life, but retained the interest.

There is another set of music that was really aimed at the masses, double meaning noted. JS Bach worked as a church musician and needed to produce volumes of his own music for worship used in his congregation’s Masses for the masses to hear.

The Christian church had developed a liturgical calendar in which it considered the life and events of its central figure, Jesus of Nazareth. Bach wrote religious music based on texts to be considered today.

When I was in Leipzig several years ago, I was able to spend an afternoon at the Thomaskirche and heard one of Bach’s cantatas performed. They are still topical church music today.

Bach wrote masses based on passionate stories. And he was not alone.

Many composers followed suit and took up the Mass for the Dead and wrote their own versions of the Requiem. Again, both ancient (Mozart, Beethoven, etc.) and modern (Bernstein, Lloyd Weber, etc.) composers wrote ordinary and funeral masses.

New liturgical parameters are published regularly for consideration by one ecclesiastical body or another. Traditions are also shared. Even in the Lutheran Church we sing the Celtic Hallelujah which I first heard in a Catholic mass.

Church music is much deeper than hymns and songs of praise. Liturgy, psalms and other service music inspire countless worshipers. In other words, music for the masses in both senses of the word.

Richard Tiegs is a singer and violist at heart.

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