Making Melody to Jehovah with Instrumental Music
THE Israelites of ancient times were noted for their fine music. Not only singing but instrumental music played a prominent role in their worship of Jehovah God, particularly on special occasions.
This was the case when King David first tried and later when he succeeded in bringing the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. There was a tremendous orchestra and chorus at the dedication of Solomon’s temple. When King Hezekiah later restored temple worship he saw to it that there was instrumental music as well as vocal music. Both were prominent at the time of the dedication of the walls of Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s day.—2 Sam. 6:5; 1 Chron. 15:28; 2 Chron. 5:12-14; Neh. 12:27-31, 38-42.
However, there is a total silence as to instrumental music in Christian worship, except in a figurative sense. (Rev. 14:2) But singing? Yes, for example, at the end of the Lord’s Evening Meal and when Paul and Silas were in prison in Philippi. The apostle Paul mentions and encourages the singing of praise to Jehovah. However, because the use of instrumental music by Christians is not mentioned, some sects of Christendom strictly forbid the use of any such music in their church services. (Matt. 26:30; Acts 16:25; 1 Cor. 14:15; Eph. 5:19, 20; Col. 3:16, 17) The mere absence of such mention is, however, not a strong basis for such a position.
Coming now down to our day, what about the use of instrumental music to accompany the singing at larger assemblies? A spirit of a sound mind would dictate that extremes be avoided. Instrumental music well played is an encouragement to congregation singing and beautifies the praise rendered to Jehovah. But where good musicians are lacking, it would be well to use the recordings provided by the Watchtower Society.
An orchestra is usually taken for granted at the larger assemblies, to accompany the singing and to furnish a brief program before the various sessions. But as for orchestras and choruses, it seems that a word of caution is advisable. They both involve many persons, and rehearsals take up much time. Also, if the chorus uses microphones when the conventioners are singing, or if the orchestra is too loud, this tends to overshadow the singing by the audience. It would seem best, therefore, to limit the use of an orchestra or a chorus, if used at all, to the larger assemblies.
With music, as with everything else that we do to God’s glory, balance is desirable. Instrumental music, aside from accompanying the singing, is really incidental, although it does add to the festiveness of the assembly, even as does a beautifully arranged platform. But often the tendency of those in charge of music is to go to extremes, to go “overboard,” as it were. Most fitting, therefore, is the counsel given at Psalm 47:6, 7: “Make melody to God, make melody. Make melody to our King, make melody. For God is King of all the earth; make melody, acting with discretion.”
It seems that some could do better in heeding this counsel. At times needless liberties have been taken with the melodic line and with the tempos, thus doing violence to the sentiments expressed by the words. In fact, it is confusing and contrary to the spirit of a Christian assembly to “jazz up” or otherwise take liberties with the simple, expressive melodies that customarily are sung. It would seem that there is ample opportunity for originality and inventiveness and musical inspiration within the limits of the sentiments of the words that are inseparably wedded to the musical themes. Talented arrangers can tend to overarrange, bringing in subtle effects in modulations and dynamics that most likely are lost on all save a few musically knowledgeable listeners who take the time and pains to listen attentively. Also, it might be questioned whether an individual with musical talent might not wisely limit his enthusiasm and pleasure in arranging programs, so as not to let this encroach too much on his personal study, public witnessing and shepherding privileges.
Of course, music must be taken seriously to make it worth listening to. But if taken too seriously, quite likely there will be some spiritual loss. Instrumental music cannot take the place of personal study or public witnessing, nor should one’s enjoyment of a district assembly be based chiefly on the pleasure of playing in an orchestra. An individual who for many years made arrangements for and conducted the music at large assemblies stated that only afterward did he realize how much his musical activity had cut down on his benefiting spiritually from these assemblies. By keeping balance, such loss can be minimized.