From Noise to Melody & Harmony

The importance of music in giving praise to the Almighty God goes back to Old Testament times.  For instance, the prophet Samuel, writing before his death in 1015 B.C., described how a troubled King Saul received soothing music from a young, harp playing shepherd boy and eventual king named David.  1 Samuel 16:16-23.

After slaying the giant Goliath a triumphant David returns home, passing thru numerous cites of Israel.  As he goes through each of them he is greeted by women who are singing, and dancing with musical instruments.  1 Samuel 18:6.  Solomon’s temple dedication was led by singing and music in 2 Chronicles 5:12-14.

Yes, music has been used for a long time in the worship of the Almighty One.  But the trouble with it was the music and singing was basically a lot of uncoordinated noise, joyful and worshipful of course, but nonetheless noise.  There was no harmony, no rhythm to it.  There was no organized pitch.

By the Middle Ages harmonic singing accompanied by an organ was widely used.  The concept of group singing, choirs, came about but there was no formal, written musical writing.  Because of this music was taught using oral memorization which complicated the teaching it.  Enter an eleventh century Benedictine monk named Guido de Arrezo (c.995-c.1050).

He wanted a way for his students to perfect their singing in harmony.  What he came up with was a better way for them to “..memorize the notes c-d-e-f-g-a.  So he took a familiar Latin hymn, “Ut Queant Laxis,” which was a Christian song centered on St. John, and he created a mnemonic device1.”

Anyone who ever had a musical student in their home, or has seen a Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1965 Hollywood musical film, “The Sound of Music” will recognize the modern, westernized version of it:

The Guidonian Hand

The Guidonian Hand

Do, a dear a female dear
re, a drop of golden sun
mi, a name I call myself
Fa(far), a long long way to run
so, a needle pulling thread
la, a note to follow so
te, a drink with jam and bread
and that brings up back to do….2

Arrezo taught his students to visualize the letters, to sight read, by associating each letter with the fingers on their hands.  His students would no longer have to rely on oral traditions to learn music, and all those to come would benefit because it was finally “scored.”  Sometime later, in the middle of the 15th Century, another Christian would invent the Gutenberg Press and sheet music praising Christ would eventually be printed then dispersed all over the known world.

All of the great musicians and composers that would ever come later with their concertos, suites, symphonies and chamber music, would benefit from this Benedictine monk’s desire to better teach the love of music praising Jesus the Christ.

So, the next time some secular artist, or a fan of one, claims they want absolutely nothing to do with Jesus Christ, tell them they shouldn’t be for such a thing because if they really achieved it then they’d be back to making “noise!”

  1. D. James Kennedy, Ph.D. and Jerry Newcombe, What if Jesus Had Never Been Born?, Nashville Tenn. by Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1994) p.182.
  2. Espie Estrella, Who was Guido de Arezzo?, About.com Guide, http://musiced.about.com/od/middleages/f/guidodearezzo.htm (n.d.).
  3. Id. http://musiced.about.com/od/middleages/f/guidodearezzo.htm
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