1Praise the Lord! How good it is to sing praises to our God; for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting … Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; make melody to our God on the lyre. – Psalm 147:1,7
I have a rule when I’m driving alone; if Ella Fitzgerald is singing on the radio, I cannot change the station until the song is over. My parents took me to see Ella when I was a kid, and her performance was dazzling. It was late in her career, but forget about the fallen arches and Coke bottle lenses, she was on fire and her voice commanded Powell Symphony Hall. Just a few hours after my college graduation, I represented the Presbytery as a youth advisory delegate to the General Assembly in Kansas City. Long meetings and low on the fun factor. However, delegates had the privilege of a ticket to see the legendary band of the artist who got his start in Kansas City, The Count Basie Orchestra. I may have been the only youth advisory delegate to attend, but it was as close to a religious experience as I would have at that church meeting.
My spirit is lifted by all kinds of music, from bluegrass in the NC mountains to jazz at Lincoln Center to La Boheme at the Met. A good percentage of you will wax philosophic about a concert that transported you to another dimension, an artist who seldom fails to envelop your heart, a rhythm section that won’t let your feet be still, a song that seems written as a biography of your life. I may not know why your spirit resonates with Pearl Jam or a polka band, but I can appreciate the connection between a series of notes, the poetry of a lyric, and your emotions. Some artists find a niche of fans in surprising places, like the Texan folksinger who toiled under the radar domestically, but was a beloved icon in Ireland. Other artists capture millions with every song they release. I remember when Paul Simon accepted the album of the year Grammy in ’76 for Still Crazy After All These Years, the first person he thanked was Stevie Wonder for not recording an album that year. Such was Wonder’s omnipresence at the time (Stevie won the same Grammy in ’74, ’75, ’77).
The celebrated cellist, Pablo Casals, once said, “Music is the divine way to tell beautiful, poetic things to the heart.” That is one way to affirm that music is the good gift of God. There are few activities more interactive and participatory than the singing of hymns in worship. I once had a mentor who couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, but when singing a hymn, he seemingly grew ten feet tall adding his joyful noise to the congregation’s melodic praise. Music truly is a good gift of God, so what better gift to offer in gratitude than to sing God’s praise. As one hymn lyricist put it, “When in our music God is glorified; and adoration leaves no room for pride; it is as though the whole creation cried; Alleluia!”