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Music: What is its Meaning? What is its Effect?

Words about music are secondary to music itself. The true meaning of music lies in the aural experience. Other experiences are merely adjuncts or glosses on the acoustical event. Music is inseparable from function as is the case of music in the Bible.

I. Definition of Music

The science or art of incorporating pleasing, expressive or intelligible combinations of vocal or instrumental tones into a composition having definite structure and continuity. (Webster Third New International Dictionary, vol. II).

Music is the most abstract of the arts. Its components: pitch, duration, texture, rhythm, color and ultimately form, speak their own language. The composing experience which brings these together in a satisfying wholeness, is to be matched in the listening experience, which then must comprehend this wholeness. (Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. IV ,p. 311).

Music is considered to be an essential component of the creation in the human soul, to balance the human soul and the human feelings.

Music is gone as soon as it is made. It is a time art: its sounds do not co-exist as the parts of a painting do; they succeed each other chronorhythmically. The first musical instrument was created by God in the human body which is the ‘larynx’ or ‘throat’, (King Solomon called it; ‘daughters of music’-Ecclesiastics 4:12), equipped with Vocal cords’ to cause musical voices expressing their joy , sorrow, love, dislikes, anger, thanks, etc.

Praising and Singing in the Churches of the Old and New Testaments

Introductory Word about Praise

Praising is the most elite of the music, for it nourishes the soul by tunes, and elevate the spirit closer to The Creator, "Who is like You, O Lord, .. glorified in holiness, marvelous in praises, doing wonders?" [Exodus 15:11].

Praising was among the first signs of reconciliation between God and man, when the angels appeared unto the shepherds saying; "Glory to God in the Highest, peace on earth and good will towards men" [Luke 2:12].

Praising has an active factor in its music, that is The Holy Spirit, "Who spoke by the prophets" [The Christian Creed] in The Old Testament, and also works in the church of The New Testament.

Praising and singing is the work of the Angels and the heavenly hosts, with all their ranks, as the Lord said to Job; "Where were you … when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? " (Job 38:4,7).

Praising is mainly and foremost is the work of all the Angels, but rather their food, as saint John Chrysostom said; that praising attracts the angels to serve , that’s why the Church of the Old and the New Testaments are Churches of praises, glorifications and singing.

David the prophet appointed 4,000 of the Levites "to praise the Lord with musical instruments, which David made, to give praise" (I Chr. 23:5’IIChr. 5:11-14).

Praising is meditating in the works of God who loves mankind, and does great marvels for their sake.

Praising is expressing the joy and happiness of man to his Creator, who gave him the grace of existence, and the grace of knowing Him, experiencing Him and tasting Him.

Praising is lifting the heart, mind, feelings and desires upward where Christ is seated on the right of His Father.

Praising and church hymns are supplications, besseching and praiseing offered to the Holy God to receive blessings, grace and thanking Him for His great love.

Praising is, man forgetting his existence on earth, and mingling in spiritual feelings which makes him among the angelic chorus.

Praising is meeting between the human spirit and its Heavenly Groom, were the first talks expressing its spiritual desire and its love, as the bride in the Song of Solomon says; " My beloved is mine, and I am His" (Song 2:16).

Praising then becomes a powerful spiritual gift to man who feels the extreme need for a holy unity with God, and this is were praising reaches its peak in the Divine Liturgy by partaking of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the back-bone for the life of the Christian believer.

Praising turns earth into heaven!

Music in the Old Testament

Music in the Old Testament was inseparable from all life. It accompanied work, worship, merrymaking and military activities (Gen. 31:27; Exod. 32:17,18; Num. 27:17; Judg. 11:34,35; Isa 16:10; Jer. 48:33). There are instances of music making connected with specific acts of God: the collapse of the walls of Jericho (Josh. 6:4-20), the enthronement of kings (I Kings 1:39,40; II Kings 11:14; II Chron. 13:14; 20:28), music for the court (II Sam. 19:35; Eccl. 2:8), and for feasting (Isa. 5:12; 24:8,9), as well as for the restoration of prophetic gifts (II Kings 3:15) and the soothing of personality disturbances (I Sam. 16:14-23). These latter two instances seem to belong to the psycho-musical realm.

GENESIS 4:21,22 "…Jubal is the one who invented the psaltery and harp .. Tubal-Cain, a smith and manufacturer of bronze and iron" .. we see Jubal as the proto-musician. He is first described as the ‘father of all those who play the psaltery and harp [lyre and pipe]’. Tubal-Cain came to be known as the father of the bronze and iron instruments.

Jubal’s music making is not religiously caused or primarily associated with worship, nor is it necessarily an activity which, by contrast, bears only the association of any number of so-called secular activities. Even though Yahweh, God, was to be worshipped in His sanctuary, the earth and all its fullness was also His; and as man’s habitat, and with command given him to be its steward, the world was to be an arena for praise. This proves to us that Adam and Eve have received-‘tradition’-the importance of ‘praise’ and its value from God and the angels, then, they deposited that tradition to their children and their grand-children, after.

Moses the prophet is a genius and creative musical personality. He was able to compose the greatest song ever known in history. This song was composed by Moses after they crossed the Red Sea with the people of Israel. Many consider Moses the prophet the founder of ‘worship with music’, and David put the theory ‘specifics in worship with music’.

Accordingly, the use of music is as much an integral part of the gathering of harvest as the worship in the sanctuary. The uniqueness is that while harvest songs are sung, they are sung to the Lord of harvest; that while battle songs are sung, God is to win the battle.

Music in the New Testament

The First Chorus for PRAISING in The New Testament is mentioned in the Gospel of St. Mark 14:26; "And when they sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives".

After they thanked and partook of the holy communion, praise started having a new phase.

The Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ handed the praise to their followers, as is mentioned in their epistles; "speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord" [Ephesians 5:19].

The Book of Revelation specially, depicts music as part of a rich eschatological drama. There are about a dozen more passages in the entire NT which shed light on music making. Of these, five only mention music metaphorically (Matt. 6:2; 11:17; Luke 7:32; I Cor. 13:1; 14:7,8).The remaining cast important light, especially when seen in broader context, that of the rich heritage of Temple and synagogue worship known and practiced by the early Christians. Matthew 26:30 and Mark 14:26 mention the use of a hymn by Christ and His disciples at the conclusion of the Last Supper. This is the only specific mention in the NT of Jesus Christ Himself singing, although it is certainly probable that when He read in the synagogue (Luke 4:16-20) He did so in the accustomed vocal manner.

There are two other passages in the Gospels mention instrumental music and dance: the mourning for the death of a girl (Matt. 9:23) and the merriment upon the return of the prodigal son of Jesus’ parable (Luke 15:25).

Finally, when Paul and Silas were jailed for then-activities, they spent some of the time singing (Acts 16:25).

The basic concept still stands in the NT as well as the OT: that music accompanied the varied activities in the Jewish community as well as the Christian. Saint Paul brings three terms together, they are psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Psalms are considered to be of the OT. Hymns, or songs of praise, would perhaps be those newly composed texts directed to Christ. Songs, the most general of the types, comprising all kinds of songs, secular or sacred, accompanied or unaccompanied, are distinguished by the adjective spiritual, which seems to set these apart from all other general lands of songs as inspired by the Spirit, and perhaps composed spontaneously.

The Church Hymns are Theology in Tunes

It has many benefits and gives power in changing the evil desires to good, as it leads the audience or those hymning/singing the words to humbleness and contrition, and remains in the soul the spirit of virtue and the love of goodness, as they try to put aside sin, progressing to hating it as it softens the heart and elevate the soul to God, thus, sharing with the heavenly hosts in heavenly praises. [Coptic Hymns, George Kiryllos, p.42, 2002]

Hymns and music occupy a major part of worship inside the Coptic Orthodox Church. The priest prays in hymns, the deacon calls on the people in hymns, and the congregation respond in hymns, also.

Hymns allow the believers to converse with God through their emotions and feelings, sharing in what God offers or grants to them in the sacraments.

Church hymns are rich in their music through tones and tunes.

It expresses the spiritual meaning which is engulfed in its words.

These hymns have its performance which were put by the early fathers aided by the Spirit. [Coptic Hymns, George Kiryllos, p.53, 2002]

Those who learn the ‘church hymns’ becomes a pillar in the church, and is considered a ‘gifted servant’, carrying and acquiring a very dear mystery: ‘The Mystery of Praising God’.

Praising in the church is between two choruses; better known as ‘Antiphonal Singing’ .. north and south before the Royal door, where the deacons chorus is. [Coptic Hymns, George Kiryllos, p.57, 2002]

This is copied from the heavenly hosts from the Book of Isaiah; ".. I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up. The house was full of His glory. Around Him stood Seraphim: each one with six wings, .. one cried to another and said; ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory’ .. and the house was filled with smoke" [Isaiah 6:1-4].

Supernatural and Eschatological Mention of Music

The bulk of these have to do with the trumpet sound of the Lord at the raising of the dead (I Cor. 15:52; I Thess. 4:16), or the gathering of the elect (Matt. 24:31). They certainly are extensions of the many associations of musical sounds accompanying specific acts of God which appear throughout the OT. The ultimate instances of this are found throughout the Book of Revelation in which the final, cumulative acts in history are announced by trumpet sounds, and where singing would seem to be a part of the eternal round of praise to be rendered to God.

Musical Instruments in the Bible

Idiophones (made of naturally sonorous materials).

Pairs of similar instruments struck together. The usual word is cymbals (Ps. 150:5).

Shaken , refers to ‘quiver, waver, shake1, and denotes a shaken idiophone.

Struck, bells are mentioned in Exodus 28:33,34; 39:25,26; Zechariah 14:20.

Membranophones (drums)

The KJV translates this word as either timbrel or tabret with apparently no difference in meaning. The fact that women used it in dance (Exod. 15:20) suggests that it was usually a small (hand-beaten) drum or tambourine.

Aerophones (blown)

a) Lips vibrating; designates an instrument (Dan.3) which can be more specifically described as a ram’s horn by two words, related to Assyrian supparu-(wild sheep), mdyobel (Exod. 19:13), related to Phoen. ybl (ram). Both words are used in Joshua 6 and Exodus 19 but it is not evident that there is a distinction between them.

b) Pipes- all other blown instruments can be called pipes. (Jeremiah 48:36, Gen 4:21; Job 21:12; 30:31).

Chordophones (Ps. 150:4)

Lutes (guitar and violin like instruments).

Harps (Ps. 33:2; 144:9; Rev. 14:2).

Lyres (Dan. 3).

Zithers (I Sam. 18:6).

Singing with Instruments in Heaven

"And I heard a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder. And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps. And they sang as it were a new song before the Throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders.." (Rev. 14:2,3).

"And I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God. And they sing a song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb,…" (Rev. 15:2).

So, music in heaven is a source of heavenly rejoice and happiness in a divine spiritual way, where our emotions and desires are moved toward God and eternity in a humble , calm and tranquil way which bring peace and tranquillity to the soul, body and spirit.

" For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength" (Isaiah 30:15).

Famous Words on Music

Beethoven said: Music is the ultimate way to the other world. DeCartes said: Among all arts, there is none that unite in harmony with religion as music does.

Mr. Eric Holmberg the writer and composer of two video tapes titled "Hells Bells: The Dangers of Rock ‘n Roll’," said in his first video the following: ‘Music has its effect on society as well as the life of humans’. He mentioned, for instance, that in China, 2,000 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, certain music rites were composed to fit society. Many directors, composers and musicians worked together for the progress of man for a better life.

The Greek philosopher Plato said, "When we change the style of music, we are changing the conformity or organization of the government!" Plato criticizes those who did not study music to comprehend its effect on the life of man and/or society, but makes their measure for it, the extent of the pleasure they receive through it, saying; "Foolishly, they deceived themselves, thinking that music does not contain what’s good and bad, but rather, judging it for the pleasure they receive only…"

Aristotle said, "Music has the power to form a personality."

The Early Church Fathers and Music

Clement of Alexandria: A great Father of the second century, wrote in his book, The Instructor, distinguishing between the lewd music of Satanic odes and another art of music saying,

For the various spells of the broken starains and plaintive numbers of the Carian muse corrupt men’s morals, drawing to gradual disturbance of the mind (perturbation) by the licentious and mischievous art of music.


The Spirit, distinguishing from such revelry the divine service, sings, "Praise Him with the sound of trumpet;" for with sound of trumpet He shall raise the dead. "Praise Him on the psaltery;" for the tongue is the psaltery of the Lord. "And praise Him on the lyre. " By the lyre is meant the mouth struck by the Spirit, as it were by a plectrum. "Praise with timbrel and the dance," refers to the Church meditating on the resurrection of the dead in the resounding skin. "Praise Him on the chords and organ. " Our body He calls an organ, and its nerves are the strings, by which it has received harmonious tension, and when struck by the Spirit, it gives forth human voices. "Praise Him on the clashing cymbals." He calls the tongue the cymbal of the mouth, which resounds with the pulsation of the lips. Therefore He cried to humanity, "Let every breath praise the Lord, " because He cares for every breathing thing which He has made. For man is truly a pacific instrument; while other instruments, if you investigate, you will find to be warlike, inflaming to lusts, or kindling up armors, or rousing wrath

Finally, before partaking of sleep, it is a sacred duty to give thanks to God, and confess to Him in songs of the lips, because in His command all His good pleasure is done, and there is no deficiency in His salvation." (Vol. II, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, p. 248,249).

Saint Clement also said in his ‘STROMATA’:

The lyre, according to its primary signification, may by the Psalmist be used figuratively for the Lord; according to its secondary, for those who continually strike the chords of their souls under the direction of the Choir-Master, the Lord.


And if the people saved be called the lyre, it will be understood to be in consequence of their giving glory musically, through the inspiration of the Word and the knowledge of God, being struck by the Word so as to produce faith…. Music is then to be handled for the sake of the embellishment-adorn-, and composure of manners. For instance, at a banquet we pledge each other while the music is playing; soothing by song the eagerness of our desires, and glorifying God for the abundant gift of human enjoyments, for His perpetual supply of the food necessary for the growth of the body and of the soul. But we must reject superfluous (unnecessary) music, which enervates (weakens) men’s souls, and leads to variety,-now mournful, and then licentious and voluptuous (pleasure of the senses), and then frenziel (fury) and frantic (mad with rage). (Vol. II, p. 499, 500).

He said this contemplation on Psalm 150:

The Spirit, distinguishing from such revelry the divine service, sings,


"Praise Him with sound of trumpet; " for with sound of trumpet He shall raise the dead.

"Praise Him on the psaltery ; " for the tongue is the psaltery of the Lord.

"And praise Him on the lyre." By the lyre is meant the mouth struck by the Spirit as it were by a plectrum.

"Praise with the timbrel and the dance," refers to the Church met. On the resurrection of the dead in the resounding skin.

"Praise Him on the chords and organ" Our body He calls an organ, and its nerves the strings, by which it has received harmonious tension, and when struck by the Spirit, it gives forth human voices.

"Praise Him on the clashing cymbals." He calls the tongue the cymbal of the mouth, which resounds with the pulsation of the lips.

Therefore He cried to humanity "Let every breath praise the LORD," because He cares for every breathing thing which He has made.

For man is truly a pacific instrument while other instruments, if you investigate, will find to be warlike, inflaming to lusts, or kindling up amours, or rousing wrath.

In their wars, therefore, the Etruscans use the trumpet, the Arcadians the pipe, the Sicilians the pectides, the Cretans the lyre, the Lacedaemonians the flute, the Thracians the horn, the Egyptians the drum, and the Arabians the cymbal.

The one instrument of peace, the Word alone by which we honor God, is what we employ. We no longer employ the ancient psaltery, and trumpet, and timbrel, and flute, which those experts in war and condemners of the fear of God were wont to make use of also in the choruses at their festive assemblies; that by such strains they might raise their dejected minds.

Saint Augustine wrote in his letter ‘On The Origin of The Human Soul’, 415 A.D., addressed to St. Jerome:

For if a man, when composing a song which is to suit a particular melody, knows how to distribute the length of time allowed to each word so as to make the song flow and pass on in most beautiful adaptation to the ever-changing notes of the melody, how much more shall God, whose wisdom is to be esteemed as infinitely transcending human arts, make infallible provisions… ( The Nicene & Post Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, p.527)

Music and Its Spiritual Means

The Holy Bible connected between the music and praising God, as David said; " Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous! For praise from upright is beautiful. Praise the Lord with the harp; make melody to Him with an instrument often strings. Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully with a shout of joy" (Psalm 33:1-3).

The spiritual music is composed and played by spiritual people, where its tone and rhythm are inspired by the Spirit, and its goal is to glorify God, thank Him, and praise the Most High, thus, expressing our love and adoration to the Pantocrator, as the Apostle Paul said; " speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:19).

This type and style of music is a spiritual means which edifies and is a great gift which quenches the heart, disciplines the soul, and elevates the spirit to heaven.

The good Lord has granted our beloved Coptic Orthodox Church a wonderful treasure of hymns, songs and praises, which depict a deep spiritual effect. The Coptic Church has a variety of tunes and tones , expressing the different Church occasion, where each has its own taste and feel, such as; the annual, the festal, for great Lent, for Palm Sunday, for funerals. Some of it are Pharaonic, and dates back to almost 5,000 years !

Music has its effect on humans in all aspects forming the person; flesh, soul and spirit.

From the body point of view:

Music has its effect on the human body. When one listens to the Washington Postmark Army music, the whole body moves involuntarily. His head moves, and his feet hit the ground hard.

For this reason, the martial music was used since old times to support the men in the army, to offer the bodies for their country in enthusiasm and strength.

In the book titled, Music in Hospital’ written by Vanderhall, it said that music has its effect on the patients. Music affects the heart beats as well as the blood pressure and the digestive system. Also, affects the endorphins, which are the natural analgesics through the nervous system of man. Vanderhall stresses that music has its imprints on the nervous system, thus affecting his emotions, which shows in his arm movements or his involuntary feet movements, unless controlled by his mind, could stop it.

It has been said that, misuse of music can kill or destroy the body along with the soul.

From the soul point of view:

Music is the language of the heart. It talks to the thoughts, the will and to emotions. It guides the psychic nature of man. Stanford University reported that, the sudden emotions results as a reaction of music. Mr. David Tame said in his article, The Secret Power of Music’, that music is the language of all languages, and we are safe to say that among all arts, nothing like music carries the power to move or change emotions and feelings.

Nothing competes against drugs as music does affect the human soul. Music can be more dangerous than drugs, if one neglects its damaging effect.

One of the preachers in South East Asia, called Philostead, said; ‘The Rock music is a lie. It almost ended my life completely’.

One of the American Recording companies tried offering music to the public with a ‘specific rhythm’ in the market, thus the selling volume increased!

For instance, the soft music has a hypnotic effect. Dr. Chroan, who holds his Ph.D. in the Psychology of Music in America, said that music can offer calmness as it could cause an emotional struggle psychologically; as a result, music can be destructive.

Tests proved that other arts take longer time to get one out of the dilemma of the aggressive effect of Rock music, since it deprives one from concentrating.

Professor Garloft, who studied ‘Music in the Mental Hospitals’, said: ‘Music had its psychological effect on patients, were it penetrated to their depth. The result was 80% of the patients improved, while 20% were affected badly. The latter was a result of psychological problems in the lives of the musicians, which affected the listeners, in this case, the mental patients.

As for the effect of music on one’s emotions and reactions, it is known that once he/she is caught in its ‘magnetic field’, it could destroy them emotionally, once the control on the mind is lost. Reports proved that the number of people hurt and wounded increased with the increase of the aggressiveness in concerts.’

Professor Garloft continues; ‘The musician has his affect on his audience, even if he did not utter one word.’ He repeatedly said, from personal experience, ‘The musician has the ability to converse with his audience, without saying a word!’

From the spirit point of view:

The Church believes in the role of music in the spiritual life of man, and the strong relationship between music and the spirit.

Praising is the utmost work of the heavenly hosts. As if all these ranks and hosts in heaven are like ‘musical chorus” announcing their love to God, not by musical instruments or fleshly voices, but by their natures and will, were they offer a wonderful note beyond comprehension.

When man elevates spiritually and become submissive to the Holy Spirit, he feels that all his inner nature; spirit, emotions and feelings, are transformed into a unique spiritual instrument, the Spirit of God plays on it, to offer and compose an unutterable song.

The Rock musician Jimi Hendrix, the researcher in music, and composer of; Music is Spirit’, said; ‘The word music is derived from Muse, meaning a state of deep thought.

It has also been said, concerning music, that it carries a spiritual strength beyond explanation. If a person plays on musical instruments, in reality I instrument, which plays on the strings of man, and guide him as it wills.

The guitar player, John McLaughlin, said; ‘One night as I was playing my guitar, suddenly a spirit embraced me, and I felt it was not me that was playing the guitar.’

Mr. Eric Holmberg said that there are 6 spiritual facts proved by the Holy Bible, were the Rock ‘n Roll music is used for Satan’s benefit:

The very truth is Spirit; "God is a Spirit" (John 4:24).

Man is a spiritual creature; for he has been created "in the image of God" (Gen. 1:27).

God is the source of life for every living being. He is the source of love and the strength of gift for others.

The goal of music is to experience God; as the Lord Jesus Christ said: " And this is life eternal, that they might know You the only True God, and Jesus Christ, whom You has sent" (John 17:3).

As the great musician, J. S. Bach, said; ‘The essence of every music is to glorify God and edify the human spirituality.’

As through music, God is glorified by man, by the same token, through music sin can separate man from God.

In one of the Rock songs for Sicruxsie and the Bomshees, the singer repeats in great pride this phrase; Sin in my heart, were the enemy-Satan, "works in the children of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:2).

Mr. Eric Holmberg says; the words in this song brings the fume of death from the mouth of the singer, which he diffuses in hundreds, rather thousands of young youth all over the world, as they incorporate themselves with the music, without realizing the danger they will befall.

Many songs are offered in adoration for Satan, as the prince of this world, (II Peter 2:9).

Sometimes music is used to obstruct and offend the redemptive work of God, where Satan strategically justifies sin (II Cor.4:4), and conforms himself into an illuminated angel (II Cor. 11:4).

You Are the Paradise of My Soul, O God [Rev. Fr. Tadros Y. Malaty].

O Lord I confess to You, Whenever the enemy rages war against me to destruct me, my heart is enflamed more with Your divine love.

His war proves to me Your love to me is abundant.

His war proves to me the glory which You have prepared for me, and waiting for all who believes in You.

My soul and spirit for all those who have fallen,

How do you trust one who lost light and glory?!

How do you worship the one who is calling for the destruction of humanity?!

How do you love that which is hatred itself?!

God is waiting for you, He wants you only.

God does not want anything from you but your growth, your salvation, to be in glory forever with Him Who loves you.

Very strange!

I marvel at man who refuses love, and throw himself into the bosom of hatred!

He belittles purity, and glorifies immorality!

He mocks at compassion, and honors aggressiveness and murder!

By his own will closes the doors of hope in heaven, and seeks despair!

He loses his inner sight, and rejects the truth, and search for vain !

Despite of the vicious war raged against God and His image, the man, in the last days, The doors of Hades shall never prevail over it!

In every war, throughout the centuries, Your Church, O God, will be victorious always!

Your Church will transfigure, and illuminate in You.

It will transfigure more to show her inner glory!

Surrounded by Your fiery Holy Spirit, as a heavenly fence!

What a unique war!

Our victorious Christ is glorified in it,

Our beloved Church will be crowned,

And be steadfast till the end and forever.


Posted by Fr. Moses Samaan

January 2, 2010