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Henry Ward Beecher on the Social Value

of Music

A very interesting sermon of Henry Ward Beecher's on the religious uses of music has recently come to the Community Music Department through Mr. Geoffrey O'Hara. The sermon dwells in a very delightful way on the social values of music and no modern thinker along these lines has more tellingly analyzed the elements which make music the power it is, than did Mr. Beecher years ago. A few of the most significant passages in the sermon follow:

"The poorest tune or hymn that ever was sung is better than no tune and no hymns. It is better to sing than to be dumb, however poor the singing may be. Any tune or hymn which excites or gives expression to true devout feeling is worthy of use; and no music which comes to us from any quarter can afford to scorn those simple melodies which taught our fathers to weep and give thanks in prayer meetings and revival meetings. We owe much to the habit of the Methodist Church, which introduced popular singing throughout our land, and first and chiefly through the West, and little by little everywhere.

"The Jews were preeminently a choral people; and as the early church was almost wholly Jewish-that is, as the dominating characteristic was Jewish-the habit of song, as well as many other habits, passed over into the early church, and it was a singing church. By song it consoled itself in sorrows; it instructed itself; it ministered to its own patience; it created joy where otherwise there could have been none. All the way down through the early centuries there were exhortations to song like that of the apostle in our text, where he is teaching men how to maintain their faith under adverse circumstances.

"In the early church the hymn was the creed. It was at a later day, when music began to wane, that creeds took on philosophical forms, and men exchanged psalmody for the catechism. Not insignificant authorities have declared that the success of the German Reformation depended more upon the fact that the great mass of the common people were taught to sing, and that there was furnished them an immense natural literature of hymns, than upon any other thing.

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"Religious music, as distinguished from other music, is that which shall excite or express some inflection of the highest feelings. But in our use ordinary music is designed either to promote or to express what may be called the moral and spiritual feelings.

"There is a great difference in music itself; and yet almost any music can be so used as to express religious feeling. We have a right in the church to ask for such music as shall promote thoughtfulness, tenderness, devoutness, cheerfulness, aspiration, joy in praise, and hope.

"It is not the character of the music presented which always determines its religiousness. The nature and object of instrumental performance and singing in the house of God is the excitement or expression of religious feeling. That alone should limit and determine the character of the music which is employed. Much music is so mingled with what may be called musical gymnastics, that it inevitably will excite curiosity and admiration, rather than thoughtfulness and emotion.

“So, that instruction which is derived from psalms and hymns is according to the Bible method, because it addresses itself through the imagination to the emotions, and through the emotions to the understanding. And it is better fitted for the inculcation of popular theology than sermons themselves.

"It is on this account that I think hymns and psalms will be among the great influences which will bring together the church of the future, and make substantial harmony between those who never could be reconciled by their confessions and by their catechism. It is remarkable to see how men will quarrel over a dogma, and then sit down and rejoice over a hymn which expresses precisely the same sentiments about which they have differed. A man will dispute with you in regard to the absolute divinity of Jesus Christ, but he will sing 'Coronation' with you because he carries out his own idea as he goes along. In general feeling you are united, though in special dogmatic statement you disagree.

"We sing from the same hymn book things about which we should widely differ if we were discussing systems of theology. “The theology of the feelings,' as it has been aptly termed, the theology of the heart, brings men together. You can blend men by common experiences which touch common feelings; the bond of union today is the hymn book and tune book of the congregation, which contains dogmas representing every conceivable variation of belief, which brings men together, harmonizing them and cementing them, and inspiring in them the feeling that they are brethren, and that alike they are children of the Father God.

“So too, it seems to me, that hymns and psalms render a valuable service, in that they remove those special hindrances and difficulties which obstruct the entrance of the truth into men's hearts. There is much truth which is clearly presented but which, being presented in a doctrinal form, or argumentatively, excites in the hearer a disposition to argue and dispute.

"There stands a controversial dog at almost every turn; and when you approach men on the subject of theology, this watchdog shows his teeth. Men call it 'conscience'; but a dog is dog. Where a man is combative, he denies your propositions, and fights them. And much that is true never finds an entrance into men's minds because of the malign feelings which are in them. * But there is that in music which has the power of putting these malign elements to sleep. We are told, you know, in the fable, that old Cerberus went to sleep charmed by music. However that may be, sweet hymns do allay malign feelings; and men who are rude and combative may be harmonized under their influence.

"It is the nature of hymns to quell irascible feeling. I do not think that a man who was mad could sing six verses through without regaining his temper, before he got to the end. You cannot have antagonistic feelings together. If a child is angry, the nurse tries to make him laugh; and he won't, he strives against it, because when the laugh comes, away goes the temper. Our feelings are set like a board on a pivot; and if this end is temper and that end is good humor, when the temper goes up the good humor goes down, or when the good humor goes up, the temper goes down. So it is in respect to all the feelings; they exist in opposite pairs; and the way to put down a bad feeling is to find out the feeling which is opposite to it, and stimulate that. This is in accordance with the law of the mind. And the singing of sweet hymns and tunes will go further to cast the devil out of men's minds than any other exorcism which I know of.

"The use of hymns, in singing, also, may be spoken of as • preeminently beneficial to indivduals in times of sorrow and distress. I know of nothing that, on the whole, is more soothing to the thoughts and feelings of one who is in trouble, than the thinking of a song, if he cannot sing it; but if he can sing, it is all the better. The sweet sounds which men utter, seem to rise, and then descend again in dew and rain from the hand of God upon them, to cool and quiet them. I am sorry for anyone who cannot sing. I am sorry for anything in nature which cannot make music. I know not that the toad ever sings. Beetles do not sing. Worms do not make any musical noise. When we come up to the cricket and the whole cicada tribe, one sings in monotone, and another breaks into syllabic music—the katy-did, for instance--and their songs are limited in scope and low in quality. “But when you rise above them to the region of the birds, music takes on more beautiful forms. And I know not what the summer would be worth without it's birds. From their first coming in the spring I bless God, and find it easier to be devout and to aspire. After mid-August, when the nest has served its purpose, and the birds have prepared themselves for their southern flight, I can not repress melancholy and sadness that there is no music in the trees or in the forest. If they do not sing for themselves, I think they might afford to sing for me.

"The sweetest and richest experiences can be attained through the voice of music. Men can oftentimes find in songs, joys which the sanctuary itself fails to give them.

"If you would redeem the Sabbath, make it more cheerful in the household. Give it the exhilaration of song. Give it the social element which goes with psalms and hymns. If you do not make the sanctuary on the Sabbath day a place of joy and not gloom, you cannot express the spirit of such a people as ours; but if you inspire the sanctuary with a noble life of manhood, and with high conceptions that touch the whole range of faculties; if the reason, if the taste, if the moral faculties, if the deeper springs of the soul, are touched, and the mysteries of the world to come are sounded out, and men are thoroughly held, then no house will be large enough for the congregation that will be eager to participate in the services of religion. For under such circumstances religion has the power to make men's sorrows lighter, their joys brighter, and their hopes more rapturous.

“When religion is made attractive; when it is made, by singing and other instrumentalities, to appeal to men's best feelings; when it makes the sanctuary a place where men are so happy that they would rather part with their daily bread than with the bread of the Lord which they obtain there, then there will be no difficulty in getting men to observe the Sabbath day. Make it better than any other day, and then men will observe it of their own accord. But you cannot dry it, desiccate it, make it a relic of the past, and then get men to bow down to it and respect it. Make it a loving day, a heart-jumping day, a free-thinking day, a day of inspiration and of hope, and then you will redeem it.

"Though I smiled at the notion of a grand peace jubilee before I went to Boston, when I came away from there, I said, 'Whatever effect may be produced by this thing here, I am satisfied that it is in the power of music to have an international influence.' And the time will come when, by pictures, by mechanical arts, and by industrious affiliations, all nations shall be under one brotherhood, so that it will be impossible for ambition to rend them asunder, or lead man to destroy man.

“Let us, then, pray for the day of song. Sing, man; sing, woman. Or if you cannot sing, make a joyful noise to the Lord. Sing in your house. Sing by the wayside. Sing upon the sea. Sing in the wilderness. Sing always and everywhere. Pray by singing. Recite truths by chanting songs. Sing more in the sanctuary. All of you sing. Sing from city to city, from state to state, and from nation to nation. Let your songs be like deep answering to deep, until that day shall come when the heaven and the earth shall join together, and the grand and final chorus shall roll through the universe; when 'the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.'”

Prizes for Photographs A first prize of $10 and a second prize of $5 will be awarded by Community Service to the individual or organization sending the best photograph showing a leisure time activity.

Photographs submitted must be received by May 1, 1921, all photographs submitted if suitable for use by Community Service (Incorporated) to become the property of Community Service. The photographs awarded the prizes will appear in The

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