Gospel Music Across Denominations

Gospel Music in the Protestant Denomination

Many people wonder what Protestantism really is and what it means to be protestant. According to Oxford Journals, It means that you believe in any variety of western Christianity that is not Roman Catholic. (em.oxfordjournals.org) Protestant became part of a Christian denomination in England around the 16th century. This came about in England when the people broke away from the Roman church. This was also around the time when King Henry publicly became the head of the church and translated the bible into English. (musicofyesterday.com) Protestantism became one of the three main denominations in the Christian faith. (britannica.com)

It has been said that some protestant music is identical to catholic music because they share the same ideologies. The themes that both these types of music share also use hymns, anthems, and choruses in their music. (essortment.com) Another reason these two types of music are similar because they take songs of the same melodies and turned them into a hymn. They would then take these hymns and performed them at their masses or church services.

In the 18th century, many composers would take melodies from songs of the secular culture and change it to make it more of a hymn to be performed in the church. A lot of these hymns would be actual bible verses from Psalms or scripture from other parts of the bible turned into songs.

In addition to taking the songs of secular cultures, protestant music would also take the melodies of songs from artists such as Johann Sebastian Bach and turn the melody into a hymn with scriptures from the Bible. An example of this is Bach’s Cantana no. 140. It was turned into a hymn called “Wachet Auf, Ruft Uns Die Stimme” or, “Wake Up, Call the Voices”. It was based on the parable of the ten virgins found in Matthew 25:1-13. (Hoffer pg.82) For further research, I went to Itunes and downloaded "Wachet Auf!" by The Bach Choir of Bethlehem with The Bach Festival Orchestra which, is a CD that contained Bach's "achet Auf, Ruft Uns Die Stimme”. It is a beautiful piece of music that I would recommend to anyone who is interested in listening to what a protestant hymn sounds like.

In the 19th century, protestant music made its way to America and spread throughout the world. This music and religion was brought over from the European immigrants. During the mid-19th century, protestant music was popularized in Chicago, Illinois. By the 20th century, protestant music was Americanized by combining African American and Caucasian gospel music. (encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org) Though protestant music was Americanized, in New England, there was still the common theme that was started in Europe. They still used psalms and other scripture as hymns, but they also used psalms as ballad tunes, which caused the protestant music to thrive. (markrhoads.com) Protestant sects believe in using both instrumental and vocal music in their worship services to make a closer connection with God spiritually. The hymns they sing are words spoken by God and they believe that by singing those words back to Him, they will be closer to Him.

According to David Nicholls, author of The Cambridge History of American Music, “Protestant music was neither created nor performed to encourage ecstatic, meditative, or non-conscious states: rather, it is music that serves to deliver text, within the context of an organized, written, and generally accepted theology.” (Nicholls pg. 78) Though this quote is based on opinion, I believe that he is wrong. The music of Protestantism is to teach the congregation the things God spoke through song to have them be reminded of what He has said.

Protestantism is still around today and the music is continued in their worship services weekly. The music continues to provide hymns from the book of Psalms and other scripture verses to be sung out to the Lord.

By: Kristen Pernas

Gospel Music Across Denominations: Catholicism and Judaism

Religious music and performances stretches across denominations and it is the individual culture’s past that has lead to the differences in their practices today. In the Catholic church, the musical foundation rests upon ancient Christian psalms dating back to the 1st Century. St. Augustine found this type of music troubling because he said that the singing, “directed to the sound rather than the sense” (The Uneven History of Church Music, 2003). St. Augustine’s argument has spread through a number of cultures over the centuries leading to the debate regarding whether or not singing in the hymns was distracting of the actual composition. Even though this has been on ongoing debate across cultures, in Catholic churches throughout the United States, songs are sung based on what the people want to hear, and that is praise.
Talking with a close friend who is a devout Catholic, told me that ceremonies, such as Mass, are more concentrated on the direct melodies and the scriptures that are sung are done through repetition and the heightened spirits of praise of everyone in attendance. DeCerchio stated, “We focus on the true meaning of the service and not what may or may not be considered ‘distracting’ to others, it is all about compassion” (DeCerchio, 2011).

Judaism, although close in geographical proximity to Catholicism, there is a wide span in beliefs and therefore the music that is practiced to convey those beliefs. Whereas in Catholicism, songs are sung through scriptures and are done so in a traditional ceremony setting, those that practice Judaism, worship through music in a very different manner. As previously studied, Catholicism uses the Holy Bible as a foundation for the service and don’t rely on it completely. Rather than solely reading the Bible throughout Mass, the time is filled with prayer and scripture. Judaism practices a ceremony and performs on the opposite end of the spectrum. In Judaism, the Holy Bible is no longer relevant and the Tanakh is the main source of holy information. The Torah, which is one of the three books in the Tanakh, comprises the “songs” that are repeatedly practiced at the Temple.
Catholics follow the notes that are in their hymnals and sing as the melody carries them through the entirety of the song. Jewish folk on the other hand, follow a completely different structure. Songs from the Torah are spoken through prayer and due to their spiritual intensity, are somewhat chanted more than they are spoken. As the meaning of the scripture in the Torah intensifies, so does the loudness of the chanting (A Brief History of Jewish Music). Even though different in present times, it is ironic that today’s Jewish gospel is very similar to what Catholicism’s St. Augustine originally wanted in his religious ceremonies. Irony set aside, both cultures satisfy the overall meaning of their words of praise, and that is feeling the underlying meaning.
Another way that cultures differentiate themselves in a musical component is how they convey their practices in a non-traditional setting. As seen first hand, in Judaism, locals come together at a Food Festival and live music is played throughout the event. Although not formally introduced, the performers seen in the recordings are local members of the Temple Israel Church in Tallahassee, Florida.

In the first video, the song the performers are singing is about giving your life up to God. Before they began the song, they both talked about how it is important just to let go and give your life to God. Rashi, a holy figure recorded in the Torah, is named throughout the song. According to jewishamerica. Com, Rashi is “gifted with divine ability” in the Jewish culture (Harlan Black, 1996). After following the lyrics of the song, “And I reach out to you and you and me” is repeated and is what I believe to be referring to how Rashi is reaching out to us to reach out and serve others, which in turn is giving up part of your life for God. As seen in the video, the festival was very non-traditional, but the songs still relayed the same message that a traditional ceremony would. The performers are very energetic and singing along with the melody, which is not typical for a Temple ceremony (Tallahassee Jewish Food Festival 2011).
Before the second performance, the performers introduced the next song as an inspiration from the musical “Fiddler on the Roof”, that was sung before the Sabbath Day. They then talk about what is the “holiest day of the year”, in which they consider to be “Shabbat”, the seventh day of a Jewish week. This introduction was very important because it gives a more traditional approach to the setting of the festival. Explaining how Shabbat is thought to be the holiest day of the year, is somewhat like a sermon of sorts (Tallahassee Jewish Food Festival 2 2011).

By Karilyn F

1. A brief history of Jewish music. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.greatjewishmusic.com/History.htm
3. Tallahassee Jewish food festival 2011. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TbG9W7Dgt8E
4. Tallahassee Jewish food festival 2 2011. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CvFs2BJ3Gko
5. The uneven history of church music. (2003, April 15). Retrieved from http://www.catholicculture.org/news/features/index.cfm?recnum=21817
Note: Both of the YouTube recordings were recorded by Karilyn Few at the Tallahassee Jewish Food Festival on April 11, 2011.
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License