The below article was written by Dr. Eugene Murphey and was published in The Tower newsletter of November 2006.
A number of church members and Tower readers have kindly expressed appreciation for and interest in the previous FPC History articles about our beautiful stained glass windows. Some have also encouraged further presentation of information about our religious heritage and local church history, hence this and following articles beginning first with a brief look at the history of music in church worship and particularly about music in First Presbyterian Church, Tupelo.
Historians tell us that there is evidence of music being used in religious ceremonies of the ancient Greek, Syrians, and Hebrews. A few remaining examples of Greek religious music indicate that it was primarily monphonic unison melody without harmony. Antiphonal singing (back and forth singing) of psalms was used in the ancient Syrian churches and monasteries and Jewish temples saw or heard the use of psalmody verses based on the Hebrew “Book of Praises” or Biblical psalms. Later hymns followed the psalms using melodies from earlier chants, and the using lyrical portions of the Bible. The first written Catholic Church developed the Canticle using lyrical portions of the Bible. The first written chants were associated with Pope Gregory and are now known as Gregorian Chants.
As far back as the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church developed worship service into the Mass which was divided into two types, the Proper Mass and the Ordinary Mass with music for the former type including forms such as Introit, Epistle, Alleluia, Evangelium, and Communion. The Ordinary Mass might include the Kyria Eleison, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei. As time passed the music of the Mass became more complex, and understanding of the words and text as well the music so difficult that some singers balked at the performance. Church leaders of the Council of Trent addressed the problem and the first official catechism was formulated. This specified that the music for worship be within reasonable bounds so that the congregation members could participate in it. The musician, Palestrina, was commissioned by Pope Marcellus to simplify the church music and he did a masterful job of retaining the beauty of the melodies and at the same time making the words understandable and meaningful.
Later in the 17th and 18th centuries, many of the world’s greatest composers contributed to the Mass. Bach, Monteverdi, and Scarlatti all produced great religious musical contributions. Handel created the oratorio and his most famous work, ‘ The Messiah.’ Schultz’s. ‘The Seven Last Words’ and Mozart’s eighteen masses should also be mentioned although it should be noted that some of Mozart’s works were so long that they could not be fitted into a conventional church service. Hayden also made a great contribution with fourteen Masses. His most famous was an oratorio ‘The Creation.’
A greater freedom of musical style and form was introduced into church music in the 18th century. This was often called the ‘Liturgical Movement’ and saw a simplification of music and better integration into the liturgies so as to better meet the needs of the pastors and their flocks. This change was carried into the 19th and 20th centuries with religious texts being combined with folk melodies as we see into the hymns ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘There is a Fountain.’
So-called contemporary Christian music was born in the latter part of the 20th century and is on-going now with sometimes almost unrecognizable relationship to the familiar church hymns. The addition of band instruments and electronic musical devices is also a relatively new development but all are hopefully devoted to Christian beliefs and worship in an ever-changing world.
-Eugene M. Murphey, M.D.