Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty firmament!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his surpassing greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with clanging cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord! [Psalm 150—NRSV]
It was the congregational singing and church music I was missing the most. Palm Sunday, 2020, and there was no palm parade, no “Hosannas!” The Washington National Cathedral was putting a modified worship service on YouTube, and Chris and I tuned in. It helped.
But with so much empty time to fill and nowhere to go, we did something we had never really done before. We looked at the section on the YouTube page that says, “If you like this, maybe you’ll like that.” For watchers of the Cathedral broadcasts, it suggested Jonathan Scott. So, we tried his YouTube page, the Scott Brothers Duo. Jonathan is an English concert organist who loves to play original arrangements of classical orchestral pieces on the pipe organ (think “1812 Overture”) along with traditional pieces by Bach and others. His brother Tom is a concert pianist and composer (who is also the videographer), and they sometimes do duets of organ and piano. (And during the total lockdown in the UK they played from the house they share on piano and harmonium—a small reed organ that sounds like an accordion.)
Then the “If you like…” suggestion from the Scott Brothers sent us to Richard McVeigh’s “Beauty in Sound” YouTube page, where (as I mentioned in worship July 18) I was introduced to Virtual Church. Hearing church music (and following along in the hymnal) was spiritually uplifting. And even in these post-lockdown times, we continue to listen to Beauty in Sound (which has now expanded to concerts and recitals that include musicians worldwide) and the Scott Brothers, and occasionally the National Cathedral broadcasts.
Music may not be essential for worship, but it is the glue that holds it together. It provides an emotional anchor. Thomas Dipko, who oversaw the compilation of The New Century Hymnal for the United Church of Christ and who I knew when he was the Ohio Conference Minister, writes in the foreword to that hymnal:
In the metaphor of centuries of hymnody, ancient and modern, we discern that God is always more than our human words are able to express…. Where language fails us, we live with confidence that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. Our hymns are a testimony to this ministry of the Holy Spirit…. They become for us a language that transcends human speech. They are the poetry of eternity within time.
Or, as the Fred Pratt Green hymn puts it:
When in our music God is glorified,
and adoration leaves no room for pride,
it is as though the whole creation cried: